For the second time this season, the two best pitchers in college softball again treated viewers to a scoreless opus.
Despite getting themselves in jams throughout the later innings, Oklahoma's Paige Parker and Alabama's Alexis Osorio found clutch pitch after clutch pitch to take a 0-0 ball game into extra innings. Through the end of regulation play, the sophomores had combined for 17 strikeouts, with Lexi ringing up 10 Sooners.
I can't even tell you how hard it is to hit off her," Gasso said, "We worked real hard to prepare for her and still struck out 10 times."
Oklahoma's Paige Parker was able to match Osorio out-for-out and even rose to the occasion multiple times when she found herself in a jam. "She had great command," Alabama's Haylie McCleney said. "She was keeping us off balance with her change up, she consistently kept us guessing."
But, in the bottom of the 8th inning, Alabama would see a face, in a scenario, that had doomed the Tide versus the Sooners earlier this year: Oklahoma's Shay Knighten.
Osorio's command seemed to flag a bit, as she first gave up a leadoff walk. Alabama then got a line-out for out number one, but committed a throwing error to advance the runner to scoring position. Osorio then walked the next batter. Knighten's three-run walkoff shot would end the game, and send the Tide to the loser's bracket.
If that sounds eerily familiar, it is because we saw this same scenario in the Easton classic in late March. The two games were nearly identical: no one on base until the 3rd inning, dominant pitching, outstanding plays in the field, and sadly the game's end:
The pitching on both sides dominated throughout the game, with neither offense able to break through against Osorio or Parker. Osorio took a no-hitter into the bottom of the seventh until Sydney Romero tallied the Sooners’ first hit, a leadoff single up the middle. Two batters later, Knighten ended the game on one swing, launching a two-run homer over the fence in left center to give Oklahoma the 2-0 walk-off win.
The Tide had their chances in this one to be sure, putting baserunners on in the 4th, 5th, and 6th frames. But, Parker was able to work her way out of those jams, and the Tide couldn't get a timely hit when it mattered most. The writing was also on the wall in the 8th inning from the circle. Osorio had walked two and given up a line-out in four batters: she does not allow lineouts; she overpowers opponents for strikeouts or forces popups. In a game where one swing determines the outcome, Lexi was visibly starting to flag and the Sooners made her pay.
Still, the sky is not falling: Alabama made better contact against Parker throughout the night. The Tide fielded better. The Tide has the best position player. And the Tide has the best pitcher, should the two meet again.
The road is a bit longer now to be sure, but have faith.