OU softball: Mariah Lopez shows that Sooners are deep in not just talent, but spirit
NORMAN — Mariah Lopez struck out Kenna Wilkey in the fifth inning, and The Sign Guy sprang into action.
Mike Kertok of Norman is one of the OU softball fans who keeps the spirit bubbling at Marita Hynes Field. Saturday, he was in the rotation of four fans who stood to their feet and sent their vocal chords into overdrive with yells of “Boomer!...”
Soon enough, Kertok’s lungs let him know he was done for the day, so he resorted to visual communication. After Lopez’s final pitch of what eventually became an 8-0 rout of Northwestern that put the Sooners in the Women’s College World Series for the fourth straight season, Kertok grabbed his Lopez sign and held it aloft.
“MARIAH IS ON FIAH.”
Well, the same could be said of the whole danged Sooner squad. Five OU starters — Sydney Romero, Caleigh Clifton, Jocelyn Alo, Grace Green and Lynnsie Elam — hit home runs, and Lopez and Shannon Saile combined on a two-hit shutout. But does any Sooner deserve another World Series trip, or an NCAA championship, more than does Lopez?
The junior from the Los Angeles suburb of Saugus was in line to be the ace of a juggernaut team. Then all-American Giselle Juarez transferred from Arizona State in January, and suddenly Lopez’s turn in the spotlight was limited.
Lopez was OU’s No. 3 pitcher each of the last two years, behind Paige Parker and Paige Lowary. No one could blame Lopez for thinking she would be Next Paige in 2019. Then here came Juarez.
But instead of chemistry imploding, it was enhanced. Juarez became the No. 1 starter, but from all testimony, Lopez didn’t gripe or whine. She went from 21 starts in 2017 to 18 starts in 2018 to just 20 starts this season going into Game 2 of the NCAA super regional. But with Juarez and Florida International transfer Shannon Saile, Lopez formed not just a great pitching staff, but an exemplary sorority.
“There’s so much to say about the way these three particular pitchers have created this little sisterhood,” OU coach Patty Gasso said. “There’s no jealousy. No envy. They surrender their egohood. There’s a lot of pitchers who would not surrender their egohood.”
Senior second baseman Caleigh Clifton said it best: “Iron sharpens iron. Giselle comes in, she’s really great. Mariah’s already great. They work really well together.”
After Juarez shut out Northwestern 3-0 Friday, Gasso handed the ball to Lopez for Game 2. She pitched 4 ⅔ innings, never allowed a Wildcat to reach second base and departed with a 6-0 lead so that Saile could get some work.
“We’re really invested in one another,” Lopez said. “Regardless of who’s out there, we’re in it.”
Thus the 54-3 Sooners move on to Oklahoma City for the World Series, which starts Thursday at the USA Hall of Fame.
Northwestern coach Kate Drohan said the Sooners are the No. 1 seed “because they’re so deep. Offensively, even their pinch-hitters are tough. All three pitchers are tough. That to me is why they stand out so much this year.”
Drohan meant deep as in the talent of the roster. But these Sooners are deep in spirit, too. Mariah Lopez shows that.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.