This one’s for the girls.
The same ones who did what was thought impossible at worst, extremely unlikely at best, and beat the defending national champions.
The Oklahoma State softball team is a true team, there are ones that stand out in terms of statistics and social media notoriety, but the squad wins and loses as a unit.
That is what it did this weekend against Florida State, as coach Kenny Gajewski and staff pieced together a game plan against a Seminole team that had a lockdown pitcher and an offense that boasted the most home runs in the country.
Not only did the Cowgirls earn hits off of Meghan King and make her beatable, but they also limited the Seminoles to just one homer, which came in the final inning of the last game of the series.
This is a team that has defied expectations for four years. I know because I have covered them since coach Kenny Gajewski got here. Way back then – I was still in college – my first softball story for the O’Colly dealt with a 6-10 team about to have its home opener. Even back then, Gajewski and his crew was optimistic about the future. That year, OSU crept into the NCAA Tournament for the first time in years and laid a foundation that made one forget about how the year started.
Four seasons later, there are two players who were freshmen on that squad in Madi Sue Montgomery and Taylor Lynch who have been through every up and down and stuck through it. They were there in Tallahassee, Florida, on Saturday.
Montgomery – who has battled through nearly every injury imaginable, including breaking the then-single season home run record with a busted up shoulder – gave the team big hit after big hit, including the sacrifice fly that turned out to be the difference.
Lynch, who is playing this season on a bum knee with serious ligament damage, hasn’t had quite the individual season she imagined, but she gave some good at-bats in the weekend and was in the dugout constantly lifting her teammates up.
Those two seniors have seen it all and have now accomplished their dream of being one of the elite eight teams playing on the last weekend of the season in Oklahoma City.
This is a squad of castoffs and hidden gems, highly-rated freshmen and workhorse upperclassmen, a real motley crew. They will not out-talent anyone, though shortstop Kiley Naomi might be the best middle infielder in the country in a few years, but the Cowgirls can outwork them.
It has to. The role of most OSU teams is one of the blue-collar underdog, with this one being no different. The hopes and dreams of young girls around the area rely on them. Some of these girls are out to prove that no matter where you are from, you can still achieve your dream.
There is Chelsea Alexander, a sophomore who graduated from little ole’ Latta High who was told time and time again at OSU summer camps she wasn’t good enough. She was so relentless, Gajewski eventually couldn’t say no. The outfielder was making her name this weekend, starting a rally Thursday and hitting in a run Saturday.
Her classmate, Michaela Richbourg, was there as well. A girl from the remote corner of the state who was only on OSU’s radar because of an email put herself on TVs around the country with a game-winning home run Thursday.
Behind them is a star class of freshmen that might not have even considered OSU a few years ago without the foundation Gajewski and Co. have built. Chyenne Factor, a Yukon kid on the Sooners’ back porch, blasted a solo shot Saturday and a grand slam last weekend. Naomi, a championship pedigree Louisianan, made big defensive play after another to shut down the ‘Noles.
It is a team that plays for each other, like seeing Rylee Bayless pick her teammates up even though she had a weekend to forget offensively. There was Raquel Dominguez, someone who Gajewski thought didn’t even want to be a Cowgirl last summer, dancing behind her coach in TV interviews and overall keeping spirits up.
There was Samantha Show, someone who was looked upon as the ugly duckling coming in last offseason from Texas A&M, but has blossomed into a player every Cowgirl stands up for now. Show even admitted in postgame that she would want these girls at her wedding, something she never thought was possible last summer.
Backing up Show on Friday and Saturday was Logan Simunek, who could have quit many times earlier in the season when she wasn’t getting the call, but worked on her craft and was ready for some of the biggest innings of the Piedmont native’s career.
Backing them all up is Gajewski, a man who spent years as a ground turf manager in Norman. One who people thought was a strange hire for Mike Holder since Gajewski had never been a head coach – though he was a championship-winning assistant at Florida.
It’s a group that had a dream and protected it. When Gajewski said OSU was a World Series team before the year, people scoffed. These girls didn’t let people tell them they couldn’t do it, they went and got it, period.
So soak it up ladies. You did it for the girls. You’re finally going to OKC.