Maxwell shines, Jennings' homer lifts Sooners into semis

With a spot in the semifinals on the line, two of sports’ titans didn’t want to budge.

No. 2-seed Oklahoma and No. 6-seed UCLA each entered Saturday’s winner’s bracket game at Devon Park with great offenses and great defenses. But for both sides it was the latter that had the upper hand.

The Sooners held a 1-0 lead from the third inning on, with their lone advantage coming from a Tiare Jennings’ home run.

“Today, they were just one pitch better than us,” UCLA head coach Kelly Inouye-Perez said.

The 243-foot home run cemented Jennings’ spot at No. 3 all time in career homers in NCAA history.

The Sooners never had any breathing room, but a standout performance by Kelly Maxwell helped them hold on for a one-run win.

“When I’m looking at these numbers, they’re almost identical with the exception of Tiare’s home run. It was quite a matchup, quite a matchup,” OU head coach Patty Gasso said.

Oklahoma now moves one win away from advancing to the championship series for the fifth year in a row. UCLA will turn around and play again 6 p.m. Sunday against Stanford on ESPN2.

Gasso said her two-time All-American pitcher may have played one of the best game of her life against the Bruins.

Maxwell’s big game started by striking out four of the first seven batters she faced.

The senior then hit the next batter and walked another to put two runners on with no outs. She struck out two of the next three she faced and kept the Bruins scoreless.

UCLA had 10 opportunities at the plate with runners on base Saturday and Maxwell never allowed a hit.

The Bruins’ two hits were leadoff singles and they were walked three times. Maxwell struck out 11 of the 28 batters she faced in a complete-game shutout.

She struck out three-time First Team All-American Maya Brady on each of her first three plate appearances.

Maxwell threw 67 pitches in the Sooners’ Women’s College World Series opener against Duke and had already thrown 106 heading into the final inning against the Bruins. Still, Gasso said there was “no way” they were pulling her with the game she was having.

It only took Maxwell 10 more pitches to put the Bruins away.

“What stood out is her response, without question,” Gasso said. “She has been going through a lot … This was a big game for her. It was really (about) getting it off of her. It’s been hanging on her since she got her. It’s been hard to watch her not be able to break through.”

Maxwell improves to 21-2 in the circle this season. It was just her second seven-inning shutout this season.

The Sooners finished with four hits including two by Jennings. Alyssa Brito and Rylie Boone each had singles for their other two hits.

Brito hit a hard line drive down the right foul line in the bottom of the first inning that might’ve scored one or both of the runners on base, but right fielder Megan Grant made a great jump on the ball to prevent any runs from scoring.

After Jennings’ homer in the third, Kasidi Pickering hit a ball hard to center field, but Janelle Meone robbed the would-be home run.

“Defense is important,” Gasso said. “If you have two of three (hits), you’re lucky if you’re going to beat UCLA with two of three. Fortunately we got that big hit.”