STILLWATER, Okla. — Sydney Springfield has played in the chaos of Southeastern Conference softball, in front of fans whipped into a fever pitch.
Nothing compares to the home crowds at Cowgirl Stadium she has seen since transferring to Oklahoma State.
This weekend, the junior infielder from Louisiana State expects to see the largest crowd the 20-year-old OSU softball complex has ever seen and she is ready for it.
“I think we are all super excited,” Springfield said. “I think the whole environment and this whole facility, just around the town of Stillwater, we are all super pumped. I was in my car today and it was on the radio and I thought, ‘This town is excited, especially for us to host since we haven’t hosted in a really long time.’
“I know the whole outfield has already been taken and everyone is showing up. I expect it to be nuts.”
Springfield has seen the full effect of Tiger Park in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and expects the fan base at Cowgirl Stadium, with its outfield tailgaters and eclectic bands of supporters, to be on hand as OSU begins NCAA Regional play at 7:30 p.m. Thursday against Brigham Young.
“Yes, I played at Tiger Park and it was a big stadium, but nothing compares to what it is here,” Springfield said. “The fans are into it, everyone is excited. Every single pitch, every moment, every second, the fans are in it and it is amazing.”
For Kiley Naomi, another first-year player in the OSU program, the moment won’t have any effect on her. Mostly, the freshman shortstop from Maurice, Louisiana, is excited for seniors such as Taylor Lynch and Madi Sue Montgomery, along with coach Kenny Gajewski.
To be a part of the group that helped get a regional back to Stillwater for the first time since 1998, Naomi said it is something she will never forget.
“This is really good, especially me as a freshman, it is really exciting and for Coach Kenny to be a national seed, it is really good for him, he has been working hard to get us better and wants us to be really great,” Naomi said.
Gajewski and the No. 13 seed Cowgirls (39-14) have been saying since before the season that their goal is to make the Women’s College World Series for the first time since 2011. Hosting a regional makes that dream much more achievable.
“The advantage is playing at home and sleeping in your own bed,” Gajewski said. “You’re used to the weather, or whatever it is. You’re used to your own fans. It’s nice to hear the familiar PA announcer calling your name. There’s a comfort. All that stuff just plays in. It’s normal. Anytime you can continue the normalcy of your day-to-day life, it’s a help. We’ve played very well at home. We’re under control here, and I think that’s the biggest benefit to that.”
The Cowgirls have won 15 home games this season and played well in front of their fans, setting a new attendance record with 1,374 people at the Bedlam finale a few weeks ago. However, if OSU wants to send those fans home happy and make it to a Super Regional, it will have to set the tone Thursday.
The Cowgirls will be the nightcap as Arkansas (38-18) and Tulsa (35-18) will get the party started at 5 p.m. When OSU takes the field in front of an already sold-out crowd, it will be playing against a BYU team that Gajewski respects for its consistency.
Despite having a bit a of a down year, the Cougars (29-24) still made a run through the West Coast Conference like they do every year to clinch a regional berth.
“Conference play, I don’t care what conference you are in, it is hard to win your league,” Gajewski said. “They are a team that is tested and will not be afraid of this moment and crowd. It will be a very important first game, but I can assure you our team has been told that they are really good and not afraid of you and they will beat you if you don’t play well.”
In order to get past BYU and advance in the winner’s bracket to a noon game Friday against the winner of the Golden Hurricane-Razorbacks contest, Gajewski wants his team to set the tone, especially to show the “Cowgirl Way” on nationally televised ESPN3.
“I want Sam (Show) to come out and fire strikes. I want our hitters to take relentless at bats,” the Cowgirls coach said. “I want to hit the ball hard and set the tone with the way we hit the ball and how we play with our energy. I think we will play like that. I don’t have any doubts that is how we will play.”
Two of the reasons Gajewski is so confident in this team that has been solid all the way through is the duo of Naomi and Springfield. Naomi has improved at the plate of late after a few months of freshman catch-up, but she has been dynamite in the field.
Her demeanor is one of the main reason Gajewski wanted her and Naomi said nothing will rattle her this weekend and she will continue to make athletic plays because that is her role.
“That is what I am there for,” Naomi said. “I am there to make plays. It is fun to put on a show for people and I know that I can make plays like that. It’s not very surprising to me.”
Springfield, who had a good season-defining moment with a walk-off against Kentucky back in February, hasn’t started much since Big 12 Conference play began.
However, the lack of playing time hasn’t hindered the plate production of the 5-foot-11 native of Flower Mound, Texas. Springfield has found a niche as a pinch hitter for the Cowgirls and whenever the moment is right, she will find a way to perform under pressure.
“I have learned I don’t need a warning, but if I do it’s nice,” Springfield said. “I have honestly just gotten used to going up there and hitting, I don’t really think about it because I have learned as soon as you start overthinking, that is when the issue starts. I just go in there and look at my teammates and have fun and not let the moment be too big.”
Those two, along with the other 20 players on the team, know this isn’t the culmination of their year, but it will be a big catalyst should the Cowgirls make a run to Oklahoma City.
“I think our kids are in a good spot and understand the task at hand and who is coming here,” Gajewski said. “… I told them to enjoy what they have, but remember what you got to do.”
All session tickets for the regional are sold out, but individual session and standing room only tickets will go on sale an hour before each game. The tournament is scheduled through Saturday because of BYU’s involvement.
Follow News Press sports reporter Jordan Bishop on Twitter @Jordanship35 for updates from Thursday’s regional softball games.