STILLWATER — Like a lot of Cowgirls, Kelly Maxwell uncharacteristically struggled to end the regular season, but she was nearly perfect Friday night to send her program to a fourth straight Women’s College World Series.
Oklahoma State beat Oregon 9-0 on Friday night in Cowgirl Stadium to sweep the Super Regional. Maxwell pitched 6.1 perfect innings before allowing a pair of hits in the seventh. It would have been the first perfect game a Cowgirl has thrown in NCAA Tournament history. Regardless, it was a dominant outing from one of the most dominant pitchers in college softball.
“I didn’t have a great warmup actually to begin with,” Maxwell said. “And typically when you don’t have a great warmup, it kinda works out in the game, and I think that’s just what happened. I just wanted to go out there and pound the zone, let my defense work behind me.”
She spent some time between innings dry heaving. Maxwell said she has been battling an illness this week.
Combined with Lexi Kilfoyl’s stellar performance Thursday, OSU pitchers retired 36 straight batters during a stretch of the Super Regional. It was a far cry from the struggles OSU ran into during the end of the regular season and their Big 12 Tournament loss to Kansas, a stretch where OSU lost 11 of 13 games entering the NCAA Tournament.
Maxwell made seven appearances during that rough patch for the Cowgirls. OSU was 1-6 in games she pitched in with walks being her main issue. She has walked 69 batters this season, and 18 of those walks came during that six-game stretch. So, she averaged three walks per appearance in that stretch and 2.04 walks per appearance outside of it.
Going further, here is a look at Maxwell’s stats per inning in that rough patch compared to her stats per inning thus far in the NCAA Tournament:
|Hits per Inning||Runs per Inning||Walks per Inning||Strikeouts per Inning|
The Cowgirls got on the board early Friday. Rachel Becker led the game off with a double and moved to third on a Chyenne Factor sacrifice bunt. Speaking of hot streaks, Kiley Naomi plated Becker with a single to center to give OSU a 1-0 lead. It was part of a four RBI day for Naomi, who homered for a third time in the NCAA Tournament.
Her home run came in the fifth inning, a three-run shot. It was her 47th career home run, tying Sydney Pennington for the most in program history. Naomi was 4-for-4 on the day and is 9-for-17 (.529) at the plate in the NCAA Tournament. She has a season batting average of .385 and has hit 13 home runs this season after hitting .224 last season with six home runs.
“Nothing really too mechanical [has changed], just being more on time for pitches, not necessarily swinging out the hand like I was last year and guessing a lot,” Naomi said. “Just having a lot of confidence in myself, knowing that if I let the ball travel and put a good swing on it, good things will happen.”
OSU scored six runs in the fifth inning Friday. Adding to Naomi’s three-run shot, Haidyn Sokoloski scored on an obstruction call, and Megan Bloodworth and Tallen Edwards scored on a Rachel Becker single.
Becker is headed to the WCWS for the first time in her stellar career. She transferred to Oklahoma State from Purdue this offseason after a earning multiple All-Big Ten First Team honors. In her first NCAA Super Regional, Becker was 2-for-6 (.333) at the plate with three runs scored and two RBIs.
Although alarm bells might’ve been ringing on the outside during that rough patch the Cowgirls ended the regular season on, but Kenny Gajewski said he was still confident in his team. And now he is taking that team back to Oklahoma City having won five games in a row and outscoring Regional and Super Regional opponents a combined 37-3.
“It feels crazy [going to a fourth straight WCWS], but I didn’t have any doubt,” OSU coach Kenny Gajewski said. “To be honest, I’ve never had doubt. Even during that streak, I didn’t have doubt. I don’t have enough experience as a head coach, I wasn’t able to pinpoint what what was going wrong. I think I have a better feel of that now.
“… We were playing not to lose instead of playing like we’ve played the last two weekends, which is just attack and suffocate.”