OKLAHOMA CITY – Chelsea Alexander surprised her teammates as she dashed from third base and slid into home plate, suddenly stirring up a cloud of dirt around her.
Alexander used her speed to create an unexpected highlight for the Oklahoma State softball team in its 2-0 victory against Kansas, but her decision to steal home was no hasty gamble. After super-senior left fielder Alexander reached third base on an RBI sacrifice fly, she calculated her decision, paying careful attention to her opponents’ actions.
Kansas catcher Shelby Gayre casually handed the ball to starting pitcher Kasey Hamilton at home plate. Hamilton ambled toward the circle, acting as if the play was over. Gayre removed her catcher’s mitt, and that was Alexander’s cue.
“I was already kind of inching towards home, so that was kind of my green light to just full send and take it,” Alexander said.
Hamilton frantically turned toward the third baseline to see Alexander swiftly sneaking toward home plate, but it was too late to stop her from tacking on an extra run after Chyenne Factor’s sac fly. The second-seeded Cowgirls’ gutsy baserunning helped them advance to the semifinals of the Big 12 tournament on Thursday afternoon at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium, eliminating the seventh-seeded Jayhawks.
“I’ve been talking to our team about taking it, and (Alexander) took it there,” OSU coach Kenny Gajewski said. “And that was really cool.”
For four and one-half innings, OSU and KU remained in a scoreless gridlock. The Cowgirls (39-12) relied on ace pitcher Kelly Maxwell, who bounced back from her Bedlam losses to record her eighth complete-game shutout of the season.
At first, Kansas sophomore Hamilton was also stingy in the circle, allowing no runs and four hits through four innings.
The tide turned in the bottom of the fifth. OSU senior shortstop Kiley Naomi drew a leadoff walk and stole second base with Alexander at bat. As Naomi waited at second in a runner’s stance, keeping her left foot on the bag, Alexander laid down a timely bunt. Naomi advanced to third, and Alexander safely reached first with no outs.
The Jayhawks (16-34) met in the circle before senior center fielder Factor stepped into the batter’s box, but they couldn’t prevent their game from crumbling. After Alexander stole second, Factor launched a fly ball toward right field, allowing Naomi to cross home plate.
OSU took a 1-0 lead, and the Jayhawks and Cowgirls acted as if that was all that would happen.
Alexander knew otherwise.
Because she kept moving before Hamilton could return to the circle, the play was still alive. Gajewski said it was Alexander’s decision, not his, to sprint home from third base. Alexander laughed as she described what happened.
“He started to walk up to me, and then I felt him kind of back off because he saw what he was doing,” Alexander said. “So I was like, ‘Thank you, give me my room.’”
Although Alexander craftily capitalized on an opportunity, the Cowgirls let other chances slip away from them. OSU stranded seven runners on base, leaving the bases loaded in the second.
Without a dominant Cowgirl lead, Maxwell (16-4), who threw nine strikeouts, had to escape a tricky situation in the top of the seventh. Although the Jayhawks had two runners in scoring position after one reached base on a wild pitch and another took a hit to the batting helmet, Maxwell and the Cowgirls shut down the inning to ward off a comeback.
Next, OSU faces third-seeded Texas – which beat sixth-seeded Texas Tech, 9-1 – in the Big 12 tournament semifinals at 4 p.m. Friday in Oklahoma City. The Cowgirls have room for growth, but they have incorporated bold, aggressive baserunning into their identity, showing their offense’s layers beyond pure power hitting.
Alexander learned a sneaky trip around the bases can energize her team just as much as a home run does. When she arrived at home plate, her fellow Cowgirls greeted her with exuberant cheers and questions about how she accomplished what she did – they hadn’t realized the play was still alive.
“You’re just chipping away and fighting for what you can get, so we know runs are big,” Alexander said. “It doesn’t matter who we’re playing, we’re always trying to get runs, so adding another one to the board, they were pumped.
“...Doing what I can to help this team and feeling that energy and sparking that energy is what I love to do, so it was a great feeling coming in (to home) to them.”