Kenny Gajewski is talking about practice.
Quoting the famous Allen Iverson sound bite, the Oklahoma State softball coach believes his team hasn’t even gotten close to its full potential, but it needs to keep practicing to get there.
Because the Oklahoma weather hasn’t been cooperative of late, it has been tough for the Cowgirls (10-5) to get on the dirt, but starting Thursday, OSU will get the next best thing to practice time: actual game reps.
The Cowgirls are hosting Seattle, Syracuse, McNeese State and Northern Iowa and are scheduled to play seven games starting with a doubleheader against the Redhawks at Cowgirl Stadium – weather permitting.
OSU is off to its best start in the Gajewski era, including having seven wins against teams that are ranked or receiving votes with four of its losses also against teams of such high regard.
However, offensive and defensive issues are still abound in Gajewski’s mind with plenty of room for improvement, which he hopes they can start doing in front of a home crowd after three weeks on the road.
“Most importantly, looking forward to being at home,” Gajewski said. “I had to reintroduce myself to my house and my bed so it feels good to be home. The girls are excited to be here and play in front of our fans and their families. It should be a good week.”
The Cowgirls are coming off a solid outing at the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic in California, including earning a win against No. 15 Arizona State. Despite posting a 3-2 record in the tough tournament, a final day loss to Colorado State soured how the players and coaches felt about the weekend.
One of the positives was senior second baseman Madi Sue Montgomery once again breaking records. The Burleson, Texas, native tied the record for most RBIs in a game against San Diego State and also broke the career record for RBIs in the same outing, which had been held by Tiffany Mikkelson.
“It is nice, but obviously my teammates had to be on base, so I credit them for sure. It is cool to have that,” Montgomery said.
Despite the great game against the Aztecs, Montgomery had just one hit against Arizona and the Rams to finish on an off note. She said she has struggled a bit with consistency in the first few weeks, but feels closer every game to playing her best softball yet.
“I think I am getting there,” Montgomery said. “Obviously, I want to always do better, but I am getting there and starting to get the feel. You have your ups and downs in season and you have to ride the wave and keep going and stay as level-headed as you can.”
Gajewski agreed with his stalwart middle infielder and said her problems at the plate aren’t an individual problem. The Cowgirls have started leaving more players on base lately and while he said he doesn’t think the team is trying to get the big hit, he does believe they are letting some good strikes go and trying to hit some bad balls.
“We have to take the better swings and swing at better pitches,” Gajewski said. “We are swinging at balls and taking strikes. I don’t care how good you are, that is not a recipe to being good.”
A player that has had some good at-bats for the No. 21 Cowgirls early has been a surprise to everyone outside the OSU program. Sophomore Michaela Richbourg, who batted sparingly last season, has become a regular at the plate this year and had some clutch moments, including being responsible for both runs in the win over the Sun Devils.
The Broken Bow product has earned the spot by working all offseason with the coaching staff of getting to the level where she can be a reliable force at the plate.
“It is exciting to get playing time at this level, there are a lot of people who don’t have this opportunity so I just make the most of it,” Richbourg said.
Gajewski said he thinks Richbourg has the potential to be another dangerous hitter in a lineup full of them, also citing her play in the outfield as another reason she has become a daily starter.
“She is one of the toughest outs we have on our team,” Gajewski said. “The numbers may not show that in her average, but we track a lot of things here. We are not always caught up in batting average, we are caught up in quality at-bats and driving in runs and things like that. She is doing a lot of that stuff well.”
Should the weather hold and the games go as scheduled, the Cowgirls will play the Orange at 6 p.m. Friday in a contest that will be special for both coaching staffs. Former Cowgirl All-American and two-time Big 12 Player of the Year Vanessa Shippy is an assistant on the Syracuse staff and Gajewski is excited to see her back in Stillwater again.
“It will be good to see here first and foremost,” Gajewski said. “I am glad she is not in their uniform, that is good. I think it is cool to see kids that you have made an impact on and were successful and we were a small part of that. I think it will be cool for some of our kids to see her and know that they were a part of her career and how important she has been to us. It is going to be neat. It should just be a fun time.”
No matter the outcomes from this weekend, Gajewski thinks his team is getting to Women’s College World Series level step by step thanks to a great chemistry and camaraderie, which has shone so far even through some of the lower parts of the season.
“It is what gets you through these mediocre times is how close the team is,” Gajewski said. “… I am super thrilled with how close this group is and how close they have stayed. We haven’t played well yet. Because they are so close and because they work hard, it will all come. I am super excited with how this team has gelled. That is what traveling three weeks on the road will do on a bus or airplane is you start to get to know people really well and fast.”