Cowgirls set to show off talented group in fall ball

Jason Elmquist/Stillwater News PressOklahoma State sophomore shortstop Sydney Pennington has taken on more of a leadership role in her second season with the Cowgirls.

Samantha Show wants to win a national championship; and she feels she can do it at Oklahoma State.

The senior transfer from Texas A&M has been in Stillwater for most of the summer and brings a wealth of experience from the Southeastern Conference. Now, she is ready to share it with the Cowgirls as they look to return to the Women’s College World Series for the first time since 2011.

Although OSU won’t officially begin its trek to a hopeful berth in Oklahoma City until the spring, it can start building to it with fall softball starting Thursday. At 5 p.m., the Cowgirls will play at Wichita State – the same squad which swept OSU last year and ended the team’s season in the Fayetteville Regional of the NCAA Tournament.

OSU lost a talented senior class, including two-time Big 12 Player of the Year Vanessa Shippy, but also returns a bevy of talent as well as a top-7 recruiting class and big-time transfers like Show.

Along with Wichita State, the Cowgirls will play NCAA Tournament teams Arkansas and Tulsa – the only other road game – as part of their eight-game fall slate. OSU coach Kenny Gajewksi hopes to continue adding top-tier opponents to test his team’s mettle in the fall schedule just to show his players what the spring will be all about in the Big 12.

“We have tried to ramp our schedule up in the fall,” Gajewski said. “We would like to play more of those Division I teams and it gives you a better feel. It really gives your young kids a feel of what it is really going to be like. Too often, they go through the fall and beat up on teams that are a little less talented and you get a false sense of who you are. We made a decision as a coaching staff to ramp that up to face some better arms and better speed. We are at a different point to see where we are at.”

The Cowgirls have already been tested in practice with possibly Gajewski’s best pitching staff in his four years at the helm. Along with Show, who stands at 6-foot, is Tennessee transfer Gabby Sprang (6-foot-1) and returning players Samantha Clakley and Logan Simunek with freshman Kelly Maxwell rounding out the staff.

Show, a native of Pearland, Texas, ranked 10th in the Aggies’ all-time strikeout list with 366 and played in the WCWS in 2017. Bringing a confident aura to the table, Show hopes to implement her hard-throwing style into what she considers a great group of pitchers.

“It is really good,” Show said. “In my past experiences, I haven’t had this core of pitchers before. It is a really strong core. We have good chemistry and communicate really well. That is only going to help us get really far and play in that championship game in the World Series.”

Show not only brings a rise ball that sophomore Sydney Pennington considers nigh untouchable, but she also will fit great into the Cowgirls’ batting order. A rare player who excels in the circle and at the plate, Show is someone Gajewski thinks could be what his team has been missing to take the next step.

“Show has pitched in the biggest of games, biggest of at-bats and was highly recruited,” Gajewski said. “She has been a No. 1 and she brings an edge here that we haven’t had. Those type of kids can rub some people wrong, but she has been awesome, Her work ethic is awesome. She is having blast and loves her teammates. All she wants to do here is help this program win and finish off great.”

Montgomery excited to be at full health

Along with having stalwart third baseman Rylee Bayless back for a redshirt year, Gajewski is excited to have Madi Sue Montgomery at full health.

While Bayless tore her anterior cruciate ligament early in the season last year, Montgomery played through a right shoulder injury and never felt fully healthy down the stretch for OSU.

The senior second baseman from Burleson, Texas, still broke the program’s single-season home run record with 15, so Gajewski is excited to see what she can do in her final campaign.

“She can hit as many as she sets her mind to,” Gajewski said. “I need to be careful about putting a number on her, because I don’t need her thinking about hitting home runs. She brings a lot to the table and her being healthy and out there, she is our silent assassin. She is quiet and leads by example. I am glad she is back.”

Montgomery, who was out for two months rehabbing after shoulder surgery, said she can’t wait to take the field for one last year.

“I just want to leave it better than I found it is the best thing that I can say,” Montgomery said. “I just want to go out there and have fun and enjoy the year. If we win, we win. I just want to enjoy it.”

Despite physically being back all the way, Gajewski said Montgomery still has some mental hesitance to overcome based on playing with that injury for so long last season.

“When you swing that many times and your shoulder is popping out, I have to think there is some fear in there,” Gajewski said. “You don’t want it to happen again. It doesn’t feel good and is miserable pain. It tells you a lot about her and what she fought through.”

Pennington ready to take another step

After exploding onto the scene as a freshman, powerhouse Sydney Pennington is prepared to take a leadership role.

Always being someone many looked up to in high school at Sand Springs, Pennington had problems being the new kid on the block last year.

Now, she is ready to take a bigger role with the freshman jitters fully behind her.

“I want this role,” Pennington said. “It might be a lot of pressure, but my whole life I have led. I struggled last year because I wasn’t and let the seniors do their thing. I talked with Sue and Sam (Show) and they want me to be a part of that. Taking that role is going to improve my play, I think.”

Pennington is starting with her protégé in Kiley Naomi, a freshman who is pushing for some time at Pennington’s home of shortstop. Instead of looking at her as competition, Pennington thinks of the Maurice, Louisiana, native as someone she can help find a way.

“We are going to try to help each other get better and not be mean to each other or catty,” Pennington said. “That is going to be the best way. That will be better for both of us. My main goal is going to help her. She is going to push me and I will push her.”

Show will be another person who looks to take a leadership role despite being a newcomer.

“I am going to be the leader in the circle and have the experience in the circle,” Show said. “That is something that I strive in this circle doing. I want that pressure. I also want to help the younger girls understand that pressure isn’t bad. Pressure makes diamonds.”

Tuck looking to make an impact early

Stillwater High grad Taylor Tuck was part of OSU’s highly-rated class and as a hometown kid, she has a lot to live up to with Carson Teel and Jon Littell recently lighting it up for the baseball program.

Gajewski said he has seen Tuck grow considerably in a short time and thinks she has earned some playing time despite being a freshman.

“Taylor is a kid who has exceeded my expectations to start with,” Gajewksi said. “She has gotten super strong and super fast. She came in OK, but I can really see her body changing. She has bought into coach Wes (Ulm) in the weight room.”

Tuck played everywhere for the Lady Pioneers in her career and Gajewski expects her to one day be a fixture in the infield or outfield, but as of now, he has seen her thrive at catcher.

Competing with incumbents Mackenzie Thomas and Raquel Dominguez has helped Tuck get noticed by the OSU coaching staff.

“She is pushing for time behind the plate, because of her offense,” Gajewski said. “It is further ahead than I thought it would be. She is very grounded and comes from a good family, so she gets it. She gets the work ethic and it is not too much for her. If it is, she is not showing us that. That is a huge sign for young kids. She is going to get a chance to play, that is for sure.”

Tuck will be one of the many players who Gajewski gets into the rotation into this fall ball schedule as he sees so many contributors right now and it’s only September.

With eight games to get a look at what he has, Gajewski hopes to go into the winter with even more talent he might not have known about.

“A lot of them are going to play right away and calling for time,” Gajewski said. “They are pushing kids who have started. When you couple the transfers with the new kids and the players we have coming back, I like our chances for sure.”