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May 23—Moments after learning her team had been awarded the No. 1 overall seed in the entire NCAA draw, Sooner coach Patty Gasso was asked by ESPN’s Holly Rowe to assess her team’s strengths and weaknesses.

“It was the worst question of all time, I must say,” Gasso told local media during a Wednesday zoom call.”I was shocked that she would ask that.”

It’s not an unreasonable question, but Gasso’s sort of right about it’s wrongness because how on earth can she answer it.

“The truth is, Holly, we can’t hit curve balls away and, if I’m being totally honest, our pitchers have lost their changeups so opposing batters should probably sit fastball.”

Even if it were true, she’s not giving away trade secrets.

Gasso could have looked Rowe in the eye and said, “We’ve played 46 games and lost twice, I’m not sure we have any.”

She’d be justified.

It would have been a hoot.

Just not the truth.

Because the Sooners’ weakness is pitching.

“You can hear it in the way Gasso and Lynnsie Elam talked about it after Oklahoma’s 7-5 victory over Wichita State on Saturday, a game it trailed 2-1 after 4 1/2 innings. You can see it, too, in the way Gasso has used Giselle Juarez, putting her in positions to succeed, hoping she’ll find something that sticks.

Juarez was fantastic two years ago, the No. 1 pitcher on a team that reached the WCWS championship series, but hasn’t been the same since surgery for a torn bicep in March of last year.

Here’s Gasso on the three pitchers she sent to the circle on Saturday.

—On Shannon Saile, who allowed four hits and two runs, both on home runs, over 3 2/3 innings, walking nobody and striking out nobody:

“I think they were ready for Shannon,” Gasso said. “The night before they faced [Makinzy] Herzog, from Texas A&M, who throws the ball hard. I think they were ready for that speed.”

—On Juarez, who relieved Saile, tossed two innings, allowed three hits and three runs, walking one, striking out two:

“I thought Giselle did a nice job of mixing speeds a bit,” Gasso said. “We just need a little more getting-ahead-of-the count type thing.”

—On Nicole May, who finished, throwing 1 1/3 innings, allowing two hits, striking out one and walking nobody.

“Nicole May can do a little bit of both,” Gasso said. “She can throw hard, she can mix her speeds … [She] did a good job of keeping the ball down.”

Here’s Elam, who was the offensive star with two home runs, but also the player most qualified to comment on the pitching, given that she’s OU’s catcher.

“I think each one of them made good pitches … They’re not perfect, obviously, like us; we don’t expect them to be perfect,” she said. “But we can all get better from this game. Like coach said, Wichita State is an amazing hitting team.”

When something is fragile, the inclination is to defend it and talk up the parts of it that maybe weren’t so fragile. That’s what Gasso and Elam did, which is entirely understandable, yet also a big tell OU’s not where it wants to be in the circle.

How Gasso’s trying to use Juarez is so interesting, too.

Friday, against a team that figured to give OU no trouble — Morgan State — Juarez started and once she’d thrown 3 1/3 innings of one-hit ball, walking one and striking out six, Gasso pulled her. It meant Olivia Rains and May got to pitch a little, too, and it guarded whatever confidence Juarez built over the 12 batters she faced.

Saturday, Saile started and it’s possible she was OU’s best pitcher. She allowed the home runs and struck out nobody, which was a little alarming, but it never felt like the Shockers were about to hit her with a five-spot.

Juarez got the final out of the fourth inning, allowed a two-out double in the fifth before encountering a very interesting sequence against Wichita State’s Addison Barnard.

The count was 2-0, then 2-1, then 3-1, at which point Juarez appeared to decide, fine, hit it if you can, piping two fastballs down the middle, neither of which Barnard could catch up to.

It felt like a moment … until the next inning, when Juarez gave up a three-run home run to Ryleigh Buck.

May entered one batter later, retired the side, and retired the side in the seventh inning, too, earning the save; but not without allowing a pair of two-out singles, bringing the potential winning run to the plate.

If there’s a legit ace among them, it looks like Gasso’s betting on Juarez, hoping she can find her old stuff.

If that doesn’t happen, it’s Johnny Wholestaff until somebody emerges.

Absolutely, somebody could.

It hasn’t happened yet.

Clay Horning

405 366-3526

Follow me @clayhorning