STILLWATER — The Cowgirls are hosting an NCAA Regional for the fourth straight year (excluding the canceled 2020 season) with hopes of making it to a fourth straight Women’s College World Series, but Oklahoma State enters the 2023 NCAA Tournament on shaky ground.
The Cowgirls are the 6 seed in the tournament, meaning a run to Oklahoma City goes through Stillwater, but OSU has lost 11 of 13 entering the weekend. Nebraska, Wichita State and UMBC all come to Stillwater this weekend. OSU beat Nebraska 10-0 at an event in February, but Wichita State is 2-0 against the Cowgirls this year, most recently winning in Stillwater on April 18.
With how the Cowgirls finished, some were surprised they stayed within the Top 8 to potentially host a Super Regional (should they make it through the weekend). With as tough as things have been, OSU’s annual trip down to Broken Bow after the Big 12 Tournament seems to have brought some refreshment to the squad.
“I think everyone’s just back to that mentality of having fun,” OSU pitcher Kelly Maxwell said. “Having our name called, having the 6 seed kind of lit a fire and brought some fun back to the game. Where we were playing in the beginning of the year, it sparked that again.”
Maxwell, OSU’s ace, has uncharacteristically struggled as of late. During OSU’s stretch of 11 losses in 13 games, Maxwell has walked 18 batters and allowed 16 runs in seven appearances in the circle. Only once in that stretch did she have an appearance where she didn’t allow a run. In her 21 appearances before that teams failed to score on her 13 times.
She is still elite. She has a 1.89 ERA and 197 strikeouts on the year, and it doesn’t appear her mindset has moved much entering the Regional.
“I’m excited,” Maxwell said. “It’s been rough the past couple of weeks, but I think when we were in Broken Bow, we just kind of reset, had a break from softball. It was just nice to get away. I’m in a good place. I’m ready to get started and ready to have my team play behind me.”
Maxwell isn’t the only one who has had struggles over the last few weeks. Others have struggled with errors or hitting with runners on base. It’s all been untimely, but should OSU get back to how things were, the Cowgirls will be fine.
If the Cowgirls can return to form, they can compete with any team in the country. Even in their slump, they played top-seeded Oklahoma as closely as any Big 12 team has played them in a series.
And at one point this year these same Cowgirls were 39-3 and the second-ranked team in the nation.
“Again, I’m just gonna go back to it wouldn’t matter if we’re playing [UMBC], Nebraska or Wichita State,” OSU coach Gajewski said, “if we are the best version of us, look out.”