NORMAN, Okla. — If the top-ranked Oklahoma softball team goes on to win its fifth national championship this season, Sooners coach Patty Gasso just might send a note of thanks to University of Wisconsin coach Yvette Healy and the Badgers.
The Sooners advanced to their 10th consecutive NCAA Super Regional on Sunday with a 2-0 victory in the championship game of the double-elimination Norman, Okla., region. But the day’s biggest news came hours earlier, when UW junior pitcher Kaitlyn Menz led the Badgers to a 2-1 victory over the Sooners, halting Oklahoma’s 41-game winning streak.
Menz allowed a leadoff home run to Sydney Romero in the first inning, then shut down the Sooners (53-3) en route to a five-hitter. Junior Caroline Hedgcock and freshman Jolie Fish both drove in a run against Oklahoma ace Giselle Juarez with squeeze bunts in the sixth inning to give UW a 2-1 advantage.
Juarez, who pitched a no-hitter against UW in the Sooners’ 4-0 victory on Saturday, outdueled Menz in Sunday’s second game, scattering four hits to improve to 25-1. Oklahoma scored on a sacrifice fly in the third inning and on Grace Green’s solo home run in the fourth.
Menz (21-9) pitched a four-hitter in the loss. In all, she threw 193 pitches and more than held her own against a Sooners team that entered the weekend leading the nation in batting average (.365), home runs per game (1.90), on-base percentage (.456) and slugging percentage (.675).
“She was phenomenal,” Green said of Menz, who consistently kept hitters off-balance by mixing in a drop ball and change-up with her fastball. “Pitching two games like that blows my mind.”
Gasso, whose team’s previous loss was on Feb. 22 to second-ranked UCLA, had nothing but admiration for the Badgers (43-14).
“I thought Wisconsin taught us a very valuable lesson on how to play free and how to play to win,” said Gasso, whose team had won 49 straight home games. “Anybody who can teach us a lesson, we’ll take it. We’re humble enough to know there’s things we need to learn about the game.
“We’re happy that we don’t have to talk about this winning streak anymore. Having our backs against the wall, right now, is probably the most valuable thing that’s happened to us all season. When you have your back against the wall, it’s a character-builder. Either you’re going to be there or you’re not. You’re going to be afraid to lose, or you’re going to play to win.”
The Badgers were on the verge of elimination late Saturday night when they entered the seventh inning trailing Notre Dame 4-0. But senior Stephanie Lombardo hit a three-run walk-off homer to complete a five-run rally and a 5-4 victory, eliminating the Fighting Irish (37-18).
Menz was the winning pitcher against Notre Dame after allowing three hits and no runs in 2⅔ innings of relief.