'It wasn’t easy': Sooners stave off WCWS elimination, beat JMU to force decisive game

Ryan Aber
Oklahoman

Rylie Boone just about jumped out of her spikes as she reached first.

Then Tiare Jennings sent the massive contingent of OU fans at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium collectively to its feet a moment later, delivering the deciding blow against James Madison and its pitching sensation, Odicci Alexander.

Jennings delivered a seventh-inning RBI double to help keep the Sooners’ season alive with a 6-3 win over the Dukes in the Women’s College World Series on Sunday.

The teams will face off again in a game scheduled for 6 p.m. Sunday night with the winner advancing to the best-of-three championship series.

Alexander held OU’s offense largely in check before Boone’s pinch-hit bunt single to lead off the seventh.

“Something about Boone is she knows how to get on base, for sure,” Sooners catcher Kinzie Hansen said. “When she got that down the whole dugout just erupted. It was something that we absolutely needed to get the ball rolling, for sure.”

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Then Jennings wasted no time further awakening the Sooners crowd that had been largely dormant since Sara Jubas’ fourth inning home run tied the game.

Jennings laced Alexander’s 1-0 pitch to right-center and Boone came all the way around to score.

“Seeing her (Boone) on first just fired me up and kind of hyped me up to do what I did,” Jennings said. “So definitely started the momentum for the whole entire lineup.”

The RBI extended the national freshman record Jennings set earlier in the day to 92.

OU wasn’t done, as Hansen gave the Sooners some insurance with a two-run homer.

Though Shannon Saile held the Dukes scoreless through the first three innings, it was apparent Saile wasn’t as sharp as she was Thursday, when she allowed four runs — three earned — in eight innings in James Madison’s 4-3 upset win.

The Dukes had multiple runners on in each of the first three innings before finally breaking through in the fourth.

The inning started ominously, with Sooners shortstop Grace Lyons throwing a ball away for a two-base error.

But Saile got the next two batters out before walking leadoff hitter Kate Gordon.

Jubas worked the count full, then blasted Saile’s eighth pitch of the at-bat just over the outstretched arm of Mackenzie Donihoo and the left-field wall to tie the game.

Saile started Alexander with a ball before being lifted for Nicole May.

May, who struggled against UCLA a night earlier, was a saving grace for the Sooners on Sunday.

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OU's Mackenzie Donihoo (12) and Jana Johns (20) celebrate behind James Madison's Odicci Alexander (3) after Donihoo scored a run un the fourth inning of a 6-3 win Sunday afternoon.

After hitting Alexander on the first pitch, May struck out the next batter to end the inning and then retired the side in order in each of the next two innings.

The Dukes didn’t go away quietly, though, bringing the tying run to the plate after a pair of hits in the seventh, the second coming with two outs.

But May struck out Lynsey Meeks to end the game.

The Sooners seized the momentum right off the bat, as leadoff hitter Jennings blasted the fifth pitch of the game over the wall in near straightaway center to give OU the early lead.

The home run, Jennings’ 27th of the season, gave the Sooners’ second baseman the NCAA record for RBIs by a freshman with 91.

Jennings tied the record, set by Washington’s Jenny Topping in 2000, in Saturday night’s win over UCLA.

It was a much different start than in Thursday’s loss, when Alexander had the Sooners off-balance for much of the game.

Sooners coach Patty Gasso said facing UCLA superstar pitcher Rachel Garcia the night before — and eventually driving Garcia from the game — helped prepare her team for the second go-round with Alexander.

“It wasn’t easy, don’t get me wrong,” Gasso said. “She still had a lot of our numbers. But I just felt like we felt more confident, a little more prepared with what we needed to do to get to the ball quicker than what we were doing yesterday.”

OU added another in the second on Jana Johns’ sacrifice fly.

With a runner on first in the fourth, Nicole Mendes hit a low line drive to center. Michelle Sullivan charged in and dove to try to make the catch, but the ball skipped by her and rolled all the way to the wall, allowing Donihoo to come all the way around from first on Mendes’ triple.

With two in the game, the Sooners now have 154 home runs on the season, moving within four of tying Hawaii’s NCAA record 158 home runs in 2010.

Though the Sooners played late into the night Saturday before Sunday’s long opener, Jennings said the Sooners were prepared for another do-or-die game.

“We’re ready to battle,” she said. “We’re all in it. We’re as excited as we can get. We’re going to get after it.”