Taylor Lynch watched as her friend since she was 8 made the final out to accomplish the goal they set when they were 5.
It was the final game of the Tallahassee Super Regional in Florida and Lynch was the last one out of the dugout to celebrate after seeing Madi Sue Montgomery throw a ball to first base to send Oklahoma State to the Women’s College World Series.
Not only was that out something Lynch, who tore her right anterior cruciate ligament in the fall season, had been working toward all year and the reason she played through the serious injury, but it was also a goal she knew was possible from the beginning of the season.
Then, OSU coach Kenny Gajewski had been making the national media rounds, guaranteeing his Cowgirls would make it to Oklahoma City like Joe Namath once said he would win the Super Bowl.
Lynch, a double major who wanted to spend her final season with her classmates, felt the same way.
“Obviously we want to go beyond the Super Regional, but our goal is behind it. If you aren’t laughing at our goals, then they aren’t high enough,” Lynch said at preseason media day in early February.
The road wasn’t at all easy, but now the Cowgirls have made it. For Lynch, it has been especially difficult. Resigned to playing the designated player position, she had the statistically worst season of her illustrious career.
She played with a bulky knee brace that limited her speed, forcing her to try to find the gap each time just to get on base and have a pinch runner come in for her. She has never been a power hitter, but over her OSU career she hit several long balls. Because of her knee, she never got to wear the home run chain this season.
Gajewski said Lynch was in a “deep, bad place” for a while because of her struggles.
“The last month has been challenging. I have lost a lot of sleep because I have made some decisions to not play her because she hasn’t been performing the way she wants to,” Gajewski said.
In the Stillwater Regional, he played junior Sydney Springfield in Lynch’s spot and it really caused Gajewski some problems benching a kid who had started all four years for him.
Lynch took it well, though. Before the year, she had been put in touch with former Florida player Francesca Enea, who played on separate torn ACLs in consecutive years. Lynch got some advice from Enea and knew it was going to be tough. There would be times she would be tested, but she never gave up.
“I knew it in October when I was making the decision between playing on a redshirt or a torn ACL. I thought about it and it took me a little bit, I always knew as soon as the doctor gave me the news,” Lynch said this week. “I knew this team was special and we had the right kids in this program with Sam Show and Gabby (Sprang) and the big transfers. Just those and the kids we already had. I knew what they were capable of on the field. I knew they were capable of going to the World Series and I wanted to be a part of that.”
Lynch had teammates around her to encourage her. She had Rylee Bayless as a hitting partner who kept Lynch informed on whatever the pitcher in a game was throwing and she had Montgomery, the girl who grew up about 45 miles from her, always telling her she could do it.
“She is a fighter,” Montgomery said. “She won’t show you that, but she is going to have a smile on her face no matter what. I am so proud of her. I am glad to get to share this moment with here. No matter what, I know she is going to have my back and I will have hers. It is really cool to be able to share that moment with her.”
Lynch, who grew up in Red Oak, Texas, and Montgomery, a Burleson native, have been through a lot together including both suffering plenty of injuries dating back to high school. But they persevered and it paid off in the end.
“It means a lot. Part of it still hasn’t hit me yet,” Lynch said. “It might when we walk on that field and the lights are shining on Thursday. It means a lot. Not everyone gets to go to school with someone you have played with for 12 years. … I remember since we were 8, we talked about making the World Series and when we committed to Oklahoma State, we wanted to go somewhere we could be those pillars. Now, we are at the show and are going to be the show.”
After Lynch was benched in the regional round, Springfield started the first super regional game against Florida State and ace pitcher Meghan King.
Like most Cowgirls, the Louisiana State transfer struggled against King at first. Gajewski went to Lynch after the game and told her she would get a chance in Game 2.
“I came to her and told her she was playing and that she was swinging the bat good,” Gajewski said. “Maybe the most important thing is our young kids saw I could sit one of the all time greats and bring her back and she was ready. She never quit. She never acted like it was over and continued to be who she has always been and that is a hitter. She had some great at-bats and hit King as hard as anyone we got. She is a huge piece of this program and the resurrection of what we have done here.”
Lynch, who had just one hit in the 12 games prior, including a streak of seven-straight starts without a base knock, nearly earned two off of King.
She started with a hard hit single and almost had another one if it weren’t for a leaping play from a Seminole defender.
“It was good to get that feeling back. It has personally not been the best of my softball ability this year, but going in and remembering that the most important at-bat is the next one,” Lynch said. “It doesn’t matter what I have done up until this point, it only matters what I am doing right now. I went in there and knew I had to attack early on King and that is what made me successful. I got to watch the hitters and learn and pick what I wanted to do.”
Now, Lynch will get to finish out her career on the grandest stage with her mojo back intact. It has been a season of enduring mental obstacles, but she couldn’t have imagined sitting out this year and living with that potential regret.
“We told (Gajewski) at the beginning of the year, we wanted to be coached like a championship team,” Lynch said. “He knew what that was like at Florida. Whether it is hard or whatever, we wanted to be coached like that because that is where we want to be. The Cowgirl way is fighting to be the standard of college softball. He told us we are good and sometimes we got set back.
“We know we are good and ready to surprise everybody in Oklahoma City. I know we are the only team that came out not in the top 8, but we knew we were going to do that the whole way."