A leadoff batter must set the tone and be a hard out. Nothing is harder than a diamond.
Oklahoma State beat Campbell 10-0 on Friday in Stillwater, starting off regionals in Stillwater with a run-rule victory. The Cowgirls did not waste any time in making their presence felt in the postseason.
After sophomore pitcher Kelly Maxwell (15-3) quickly blanked the Fighting Camels in the first inning, OSU junior shortstop Kiley Naomi led off the game for the Cowgirls.
Naomi swung at the first pitch she saw, sending the pitch from freshman Georgeanna Barefoot whizzing through the air and over the fence in centerfield for a home run.
“I told her it was one of the best first swings of a game I’ve seen her have, maybe ever,” coach Kenny Gajewski said. “When she’s going like that there’s really not a better player in the country.”
If they are on time and ready to hit and their pitch is thrown immediately, Gajewski encourages his players to swing at the pitch which looks best to them.
“As the leadoff batter, I just try to set the tone,” Naomi said. “Whenever you get that pitch that looks good to you and you feel good. ... We’re just ready to go and really aggressive when that happens.”
Naomi received loud cheers as she rounded the bases and the OSU lead was accounted for on the scoreboard behind right field.
The next three Cowgirls would get on base after Naomi’s leadoff long ball, and the tone had been set. No. 5 OSU (43-9) was going to be aggressive in the postseason.
“The way Kiley led the game off with a bang and Chey comes out right behind her with another really hard-hit ball, you’re like, ‘Woah. Here this team goes,’ Gajewski said. “Really cool to watch that.”
As the leadoff hitter and everyday shortstop for a top team in the country, Naomi’s role is a large one. As an upperclassman she might feel extra pressure to help propel her team back to the College World series, but the team’s reliance on Naomi may not necessarily be a bad thing.
“Pressure makes diamonds,” Gajewski said. “We’ve got a diamond here. That all you need to know. (Naomi) is a diamond.”
In her second and final at-bat of the game, Naomi slapped a single through the left side of the infield. Although she did so with her team commanding a comfortable lead, the veteran rounded first base hard, making herself ready to take second in event of an error.
That is exactly what happened. The throw from the outfield came in offline and Naomi slid into second base just ahead of the relay tag.
The extra effort may not have had a huge impact in the rout or garnered much praise, just as Naomi’s dash to third base when tagging on a short fly ball to right field later in the inning is a play easily glossed over.
Those moments, though, are what separates good players from great players, and what separates good teams from teams that can win the College World Series.
“This is the kid that I wanted from day one when I got this job,” Gajewski said. “(Naomi) was one of the first kids I went after hard and tried to convince her that she could make change here. That’s all she’s done from day one is make change and change the narrative of this program.”