OKLAHOMA CITY – Giselle Juarez and Oklahoma head into the Women’s College World Series final with loads of momentum. Same for Kaley Mudge and Florida State.
The Sooners and Seminoles also know a little something about coming up big in tense situations.
Juarez turned in another gem as Oklahoma beat Odicci Alexander and James Madison 7-1 on Monday. Mudge led the way as Florida State advanced with an 8-5 victory over Alabama.
Oklahoma and Florida State will meet in the best-of-three championship series starting Tuesday. The top-seeded Sooners (54-3) are going for their fifth national title. The 10th-seeded Seminoles (48-11-1) won their only World Series championship in 2018.
Each school followed a similar path to the final. They lost their openers at the Women's College World Series, then reeled off four straight wins in elimination games.
Mudge went 5 for 5 to help Florida State rough up Alabama’s Montana Fouts. The star right-hander threw a perfect game against UCLA on Friday, but she struggled against the Seminoles.
Elizabeth Mason connected for a three-run homer in the first, and Mudge’s single knocked in Josie Muffley in the second. Kalei Harding tacked on a two-run single in the third, making it 6-0 and chasing Fouts.
Fouts allowed one run in her first two World Series games and had 30 strikeouts without allowing a walk. Mason said patience was the key to solving her.
“Just trying to get the barrel to the ball, see it down," Mason said. “She does spot a couple down in the zone. So just doing our best to lay off the rise ball, and when she does miss, to make sure we’re ready for that pitch."
Third-seeded Alabama (52-9) closed to 8-5 with three runs in the fifth, including Bailey Hemphill's two-run homer. But the Seminoles held on.
Hemphill was proud of the rally.
“It could have been a lot worse than 8-0," she said. “We’re resilient and gritty. I think we showed that. It was a challenge coming back. I wish we could have came back and won it."
Mudge entered the night with a .280 batting average.
“It’s amazing to see Mudge’s performance tonight," Mason said. “She’s been one person on our team who has worked tirelessly day in and day out. She’s had it in her from Day One."
In the early game, Juarez struck out 11 in another stellar performance for Oklahoma.
Behind Alexander's pitching, unseeded James Madison surprised Oklahoma on the opening day of the tournament Thursday. The Sooners won two games on Saturday, and then beat James Madison on Sunday to force the winner-take-all game for a spot in the championship series.
Alexander, who pitched complete games in wins over Oklahoma and No. 5 seed Oklahoma State to reach the semifinals, lasted into the fifth inning Monday. The crowd of mostly Oklahoma fans gave a tearful Alexander a standing ovation as she left the field.
“It was amazing," she said. “I mean, it’s more than just a game. To see them all clapping for me and cheering me on, I mean, it was a great moment, and it warmed my heart."
Juarez was impressed with Alexander.
“Game recognizes game, and she is a baller," Juarez said. “I have mad respect for her, and she gave everything she had and I think it’s really awesome that they did give her that standing ovation. She earned it."
It was the first World Series appearance for James Madison (41-4), the Colonial Athletic Association champion.
Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso said James Madison and coach Loren LaPorte gave softball a boost.
“I think singlehandedly James Madison made our sport better because they brought a lot of people in that wanted to watch them," Gasso said. “I think that’s the ultimate compliment I could give a coach and a program."
Juarez, or “G” as she often goes by, allowed four hits in the complete game. Kate Gordon drove the left-hander's first pitch over the wall in left, riling up the small group of loyal purple-clad fans behind the team’s dugout, but it was all Juarez from there.
Oklahoma went ahead to stay in the fourth. Nicole Mendes tripled and scored on a wild pitch. Jana Johns made it 2-1 when she singled in Lynnsie Elam.
The Sooners then broke it open with four runs in the fifth. Mackenzie Donihoo and Jayda Coleman each had a two-run double.
Jocelyn Alo hit her 32nd homer of the season — extending her school record — in the sixth to push Oklahoma's lead to 7-1.
Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: https://twitter.com/CliffBruntAP.