It didn’t take long for Kiley Naomi to figure out what had just happened. Everyone else already knew.
Oklahoma State softball’s star shortstop and three-hole hitter, Naomi stepped into the box in the bottom of the fourth with an opportunity to flip the script on the Cowgirls’ early struggles at the dish.
And it only took one pitch for her to do just that. Naomi let loose on a riseball from Oregon pitcher Morgan Scott and sent it to deep left-center field. A roar engulfed Cowgirl Stadium as soon as it left her bat.
Naomi watched it sail through Stillwater’s night sky for a few seconds before sprinting around the bases and emphatically stomping on home, a sequence that sparked eight unanswered runs from the Cowgirls in their 8-1 win over the Ducks on Thursday night in Game 1 of the Stillwater Super Regional.
“I thought that Kiley’s home run just kind of leveled the field, just kind of gave our kids a little bit of energy and just kind of got us going,” Cowgirls coach Kenny Gajewski said in the aftermath of the seven-run triumph, which also served as Oregon’s largest defeat of the season.
OSU (45-14) had a meager two hits to show for the first three innings. It was an anomaly for the Cowgirls, who seldom struggled to plate runs while running through the Stillwater Regional a week earlier.
Naomi’s blast – her 12th of the season – started a ripple effect, one that immediately proved evident. The Cowgirls had their next five batters reach base, with another pair of runs coming on a fielder’s choice and RBI single from freshman left fielder Tallen Edwards.
“When you have an opponent who puts a couple of things together, it’s important that you stop the bleeding,” Oregon coach Melyssa Lombardi said. “We just didn’t have an opportunity to do that.”
The surge carried over into the fifth inning, too. OSU first baseman Micaela Wark scored another with an RBI groundout. Then designated player Morgyn Wynne ripped a drive out to left field with two outs and runners on the corners.
“I knew it was a homer,” said Wynne, who was exactly right while watching her 10th home run of the season leave the park. “I swung, and I was like, ‘Oh, that was great.’
“Definitely, I think Kiley’s home run triggered us.”
The Cowgirls’ onslaught continued until it didn’t have to anymore. After being blanked throughout the first three innings, they scored in each of the final three – excluding the seventh, of course.
But none of it would’ve been possible without Lexi Kilfoyl, who was prolific in her complete-game performance. The senior didn’t waver despite spotting the Ducks (38-16) their only run in the top of the second inning.
Kilfoyl retired the final 17 batters she faced after that and allowed a mere three hits to the Ducks, who entered the contest averaging more than 10 a game.
“I mean, I felt good from the start,” Kilfoyl said. “I was sweating a bunch in that bullpen. But being a Florida girl, I’m used to that. So, when I came out, I just trusted my dropball, and they were putting it in play right to our players. They’re covering every single inch of that field, and they did tonight.”
Kilfoyl wasn’t sure if she’d start, actually. Most of the other series openers throughout the season have featured Kelly Maxwell, an All-American who’s spent the entirety of her career at OSU.
Gajewski figured that was the plan this time around, too. Pitching coach John Bargfeldt wanted to try something different.
Maxwell threw a five-inning gem during the Cowgirls’ win over UMBC to open Regionals. She started again during their win against Nebraska, the one that advanced them to Super Regionals, and lasted more than four innings. Rest couldn’t have been a bad thing, and neither was Kilfoyl.
“John and I talked about it at the beginning of the week. On Monday, we were the only two in the office, and I knew he was gonna wanna talk. He’s a planner,” Gajewski said. “He said, ‘Hey, I think I want to go this way.’ I said, ‘We don’t have to make a decision here.’ and we never talked about it again.”
The Cowgirls’ fourth-straight win has them on the verge of a fourth consecutive trip to the Women’s College World Series. They can’t think that way, though. That isn’t what’s gotten them this far, and that isn’t what will help them get back to Oklahoma City.
Gajewski knows the Ducks aren’t going to lay down in Game 2 (5 p.m. Friday, ESPN2). The Cowgirls aren’t planning to, either.
“I know Oregon’s coming out for blood (Friday), no matter what,” Gajewski said. “That’s what good teams do when their backs are against a wall.”
Follow News Press sports reporter Jon Walker on Twitter @ByJonWalker for updates on Oklahoma State athletics and more.
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