STILLWATER, Okla. — At 6 a.m. Tuesday, the Oklahoma State softball team got its first look at its opponent this weekend: a team it would have to sweep to win the Big 12 title.
Samantha Show noticed something when looking at film of an Oklahoma squad that ranks No. 1 in not only the polls, but also batting average, fielding percentage, home runs a game, on-base percentage, runs per game, shutouts, slugging percentage, strikeouts to walks and win-loss percentage.
“They’re beatable,” Show said.
Bold words going against a team that has the nation’s longest winning streak at 35 games and hasn’t lost a Big 12 contest in more than two years. A Sooner squad that has bested the Cowgirls for eight-straight years, but this OSU team has a different edge to it, and believes it can back up its bold declarations.
“It is the best team in the country, best program in the country,” OSU coach Kenny Gajewski said. “I feel like I have been around the best programs in the country, playing against OU and then working at the University of Florida. I know what that looks like and how that work looks. It is a big mountain to climb, but this team is not afraid of that. We’re all in. It is just softball when it comes down to it.”
The Cowgirls and Sooners will get started with a 6 p.m. contest Friday at Cowgirl Stadium, followed by a sojourn to Norman for a 7 p.m. Saturday game at Marita Hynes Field, completed by a 3 p.m. Sunday finale back in Stillwater.
For the third-straight year, it comes down to the Bedlam series for the regular season title, a feat OSU hasn’t been able to accomplish since the mid-1990s.
“I know we have some kids that this means a lot to and this does, too,” Gajewski said. “Looking forward to the challenge ahead and I know that our kids will be prepared and I still think our best softball is ahead of us.”
OSU (37-11 overall, 13-2 Big 12 Conference) has proven that it’s gotten better every week, showcasing the Cowgirls’ resiliency in a three-game set last weekend against Texas Tech where they swept the Red Raiders after coming back in each contest.
Senior second baseman Madi Sue Montgomery said the team is going to ride that emotional high into the series and hope it carries some momentum against the Sooners. Part of a senior class that has gone 0-10 against OU, Montgomery notes that this series means even more to her and her fellow classmates.
“At the end of the day, it is still a softball game,” Montgomery said. “Obviously they are good and we know they are good, but if we take care of what we can do and handle ourselves more instead of who is on the other side, we will be just fine. That is going to help us playing to their level.”
Every year, the gap between the teams has been getting closer and closer, with part of the reason being Gajewski and Co. getting some coups on in-state recruiting with players such as Sydney Pennington and Chyenne Factor, as well as finding some hidden gems in Chelsea Alexander and Michaela Richbourg.
Factor, a Yukon native, grew up with the Bedlam rivalry. She said it is big for her to try to make an impact and stop OU’s streak.
“That is always the goal to beat who we are playing, but for them to be right down the road and for us to live here and choose this school, knowing we can play and this school is upcoming will be a big deal,” Factor said.
OU has almost a murderer’s row of hitters in its order as the OSU pitching staff cannot make any mistakes against players such as Sydney Romero, who is hitting .430 – one of four players with over a .400 batting average – and leading the team with 16 home runs.
In the circle, Sooner greats Paige Parker and Paige Lowary no longer toe the rubber, but OU coach Patty Gasso went out and got Arizona State transfer Giselle Juarez, a lefthander who is unbeaten and a master pitcher.
“She is really good and throws a lot of strikes and keeps hitters off balance with changeups and is a curveball girl,” Montgomery said. “I think if we attack her early, we will have a chance.”
Gajewski brought in the transfer Show as well, from Texas A&M, as he hopes she and some other newcomers and freshmen can be the difference as they haven’t played the Sooners before.
“Coach G said if I make one mistake, I can’t make two more after that,” Show said. “I have to go right back to being sharp. It is going to be a good game and fun. We are on a high right now and it will be fun to come in to here and play OU.”
Going against the Sooners (45-2, 15-0) will prove the biggest challenge most on this roster will ever face, but Gajewski feels his team is up to the task.
“I think if you ask any coach around, that is the type of culture you are trying to create and the type of mentality,” Gajewski said. “I think we have done that and we are not close to being there, but I think we are in a position in my fourth year, I think my kids are ready. I know we said we may be ready in the past, but I think this team is ready to play well.”
Bishop writes for Stillwater News Press, a CNHI News Service publication.