STILLWATER, Okla. — Kenny Gajewski peered through the construction fence surrounding ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City.
Oklahoma State was heading down Interstate 35 on a road trip, but Gajewski had the bus make a pit stop at Exit 132A to put the motivation back into his Cowgirl squad.
He tweeted out a picture of the “Softball Capital of the World” and said “See you soon.”
Right after that, the Cowgirls lost a game to UT-Arlington, and despite being in control of its own destiny, OSU hadn’t made it past the regional round in Gajewski’s time. He caught a lot of heat for the tweet, but he turned out to be correct. At 6 p.m. Thursday, OSU will play No. 5 Florida in the Women’s College World Series.
“I just stood up and told them that 'If you don't dream about this stuff, if you don't truly believe that you can do this, it will not happen.' That's a direct line from Coach (Mike) Holder,” Gajewski said. “I put that tweet out and I got a lot of grief about that tweet at that time. A lot of grief, but it doesn't matter. That was risky in some way because you never know how things are going to work out, but I have been telling all of you that have been around here a bunch – this team is capable of this. It's going to take everything that we've got. We can't not play well and get in to this tournament, but we've yet to play good softball. We're doing that now. Complete games, I mean. We're playing well, but we're playing more complete games now, which is what you've got to do. It's cool that it comes back and this team has bought in.”
The No. 13 Cowgirls are the lone team advancing to the elite event that wasn’t a top eight seed as OSU knocked off defending national champions No. 4 Florida State to earn a spot.
Now that the dream is realized, OSU is in it to win it and first on deck are the Gators (49-16) and coach Tim Walton, who goes way back with Gajewski back to playing days in junior college baseball before paling around at Oklahoma assisting coach Patty Gasso.
Senior designated player Taylor Lynch said the Cowgirls wanted Florida. A few years ago in regional action down in Gainesville, OSU earned a monumental upset over the then No. 1 squad to force an if necessary game.
Taking from doing that back in 2017, plus all the 17 come-from-behind wins this team has had this year, Lynch feels confident.
“I am going to be honest. We wanted Florida,” Lynch said. “We want to play with and as our first game. We know a little bit about them and a couple of us played them a few years ago and we know how to be successful off of Kelly (Barnhill). Not taking anything away from that program and what they have done, they are obviously a successful program and very well coached and grateful we got some of that here. The most important game is the next one and it happens to be them, we are ready to take it to them.”
Florida is a squad that despite finishing .500 in the rough-and-tumble Southeastern Conference, is the hottest team in the country. The Gators blew through the conference tournament, knocking off Alabama to win it all.
Florida chomped through the competition in regional action before besting Tennessee in supers to earn the 10th WCWS appearance in school history.
Barnhill, a senior righthander, leads the squad in the circle and has a sub-one earned run average in postseason play.
OSU senior second baseman Madi Sue Montgomery, who had success against another top-notch pitcher in the Seminoles’ Meghan King, said she thinks the Cowgirls’ offense will be fine.
“I think we are confident right now and proud of what we are all doing,” Montgomery said. “If we put some good at-bats together we will be fine. Just fouling off pitches like we have been doing. I think we are going to try to put good at-bats together and pass the bat along.”
The fact that OSU (44-15) has beaten the Gators recently adds even more to the confidence that the Cowgirls will move on to the winner’s bracket to play either No. 1 Oklahoma or No. 8 Alabama on Friday. Should they lose, they will play the loser of that contest on Saturday as the WCWS is a double elimination tournament.
“Obviously we could do it then so why not now?” Montgomery said. “We can take the composure we had in that tournament and knock off the No.1 seed and take that confidence with us and if we can play as us, we will be fine.”
As for the Cowgirls, they put senior Samantha Show out in the circle in three-straight contests against FSU. For a squad that had a strict rotation throughout the season, Gajewski said he and pitching coach Jeff Cottrill knew they could use her more last weekend but don’t know if that will be the course of action in Oklahoma City.
Junior Logan Simunek has pitched phenomenally in relief, Gajewski believes senior Samantha Clakley is due and sophomore lefthander Gabby Sprang is an option should OSU need her.
“You have to think that Show has been the horse,” Gajewski said. “I haven’t lost any confidence in Clakley at all. Show and Logan have been the two best the past month. Sam is ready. It hasn’t presented itself. This time of year, you really see that No. 1 kid goes more. We are no different. We kind of try to pitch everyone throughout the whole year to save the one. I told her that is why we haven’t started her in some of these games.
'We could be 49-10 at this point of she had thrown more games, I don't know if we would be here today or lasted through what we have just gone through. You can’t burn these kids out too quick. They do get tired. They are humans. We have played it right to this point and hopefully we can keep pushing the right buttons and pulling the right strings to see where this goes.”