OU softball: Rylie Boone sparks Sooners past Northwestern to open WCWS

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Jun. 3—Rylie Boone knew her team needed a spark.

The Owasso native, who batted eighth in Oklahoma's lineup, didn't see her first at-bat until the bottom of the third inning. At that point, the Sooners had recorded zero runs and only one hit while Northwestern had scored its first run with a solo home run in the top of the frame.

Boone let Danielle Williams' first pitch go by for a ball. But she swung and made contact on the second pitch — a double to right field to give the Sooners their second hit of the game.

After she was ruled safe at second base, Boone began hitting the ground with her firsts as she yelled to her team and to the Sooner fans.

"I hurt my hand," Boone joked. "But [I was] firing up my teammates. I yelled, "I got you,' to my teammates, so I think [I was] just trying to get something started."

That play, and Boone's intensity, seemed to help the Sooners find their groove. The team recorded five more hits during the frame and scored six runs, four of them on a grand slam by Tiare Jennings.

But the third inning was capped off similarly to how it started, with Boone making it back to the plate and hitting a single to center field that scored Grace Lyons for the team's final run.

The Sooners used that momentum en route to a 13-2 win over Northwestern Thursday to open the Women's College World Series at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium. and in a game where the Sooners finished with 11 hits, none were bigger than Boone's initial double to lead off the third.

"They did a really good job, and Riley Boone was really the catalyst of all of this," OU coach Patty Gasso said. "It just kind of bled into everybody else. Everybody else knew, 'OK, I have got to change. I must change.' You started to see what that looked like."

It was particularly important for the Sooners in a game where they struggled early.

Williams found a groove early against the Sooner batters, as she forced three strikeouts and a flyout while only surrendering one hit. The Sooners' defense managed to keep things scoreless until Rachel Lewis' solo home run in the top of the third gave the Wildcats the lead.

Heading into the bottom of the frame, Gasso's squad had a meeting.

"It went from talking to stern conversation," Gasso said. "And Jocelyn Alo jumped in. and that gets very stern and gets to a place where I need to walk away... We have a pretty straight-laced program, but when Joce jumps in, she'll say it the way she means it.

"I just step out so she can be herself. The response was through the roof."

The third inning wasn't the only time that the Sooners found a rhythm. They followed it up with seven runs in the fourth inning that included another grand slam, this time from Jana Johns.

The Sooners credited making adjustments at the plate after the first two innings for their offensive explosion the rest of the game.

"I would say [we were] really just focusing on hitting the ball, letting it get deep and just hitting it to right field because we were early all game," Johns said. "And I think [after] letting the atmosphere get to you kind of, you just have to breathe and stick to the process."

Boone finished with two hits, two runs and two RBIs. Jennings added two hits, two runs and four RBIs. Hope Trautwein snagged the win on the mound for the Sooners, recording seven strikeouts while holding the Wildcats to two hits in 4.2 innings.

With the win, the Sooners advance in the WCWS winner's bracket to take on Texas at 2 p.m. Saturday. The Longhorns knocked off UCLA 7-2 to advance.

The Sooners are in a much better place compared to last season's WCWS, when they lost to James Madison 4-3 in the first game. and they'll now prepare for a Longhorns team that handed them their first loss of the season back in April.

"Anybody will tell you the first game is really the biggest because it sets you up for [getting] a day off, and we get to refuel and rest and recoup," Gasso said. "One thing that's really hard about this is if you lose, you have got to go back and get your scouts and everything ready to turn around, to play another game the next day. It's difficult.

"It's the way you want to start. This is what it looks like."

Jesse Crittenden is the sports editor of The Transcript and covers OU athletics. Reach him at jesse@normantranscript.com or at 405-366-3580