OKLAHOMA CITY – Winning isn’t always pretty, but all that matters is the final score.
Neither game Friday was relaxing for Oklahoma State, but the Cowgirls left OGE Energy Field at the USA Softball Hall of Fame Complex with a pair of victory. A 3-2 win over Texas and a 6-5 victory over Iowa State clinched the Cowgirls a spot in Saturday’s championship game of the Big 12 Conference Softball Tournament.
OSU will play either Oklahoma or Texas Tech for the conference tournament title at 3 p.m. in Oklahoma City.
“Obviously, two really good wins in the conference tournament,” OSU coach Kenny Gajewski said. “Everybody is playing at a really high level, and it was really cool to be a part of this today. I thought in the first game, (Shealyn) O’Leary was throwing the ball very well, and we just had enough clutch hits and put enough pressure on them late.”
The Cowgirls’ second outing of the day was filled with late-game drama. They trailed 3-1 heading to the seventh, needing a heroic rally to avoid the loss and a three-way tie for first place in the pool.
The tiebreaker is runs allowed, so OSU was in good position trailing 3-1 after Texas beat ISU, 7-4. They couldn’t give up five runs and lose or they’d find themselves out of the title game.
That’s when things got hairy for OSU. It gave up a leadoff double and a single surrounded by two outs. Then came back-to-back RBI singles before Logan Simunek was replaced by Kelly Maxwell in the circle.
Maxwell struck out Iowa State’s Logan Schaben to the final out.
“In the second game, I didn’t like our energy and our mentality was just OK,” Gajewski said. “In the seventh, we just kind of opened up and finally got something going. I think (assistant coach) Jeff (Cottrill) made them mad or told them something, but it was just really cool to see our offense come alive. It was good see our pitcher working and get challenged. It was a really good softball game by both teams.”
Iowa State’s two runs came after OSU posted five runs in the top half of the inning. Avery Hobson led off earning a walk and Chelsea Alexander reached on a fielder’s choice. With two outs, Chyenne Factor hit a deep fly ball to the right field corner that wasn’t caught by ISU’s Milaysia Ochoa.
“It was really cool to have Avery Hobson lead off that last inning with a walk,” Gajewski said. “She’s a kid that I think her future is really bright here. To see her get on base and get us rocking was good.”
Hobson and Alexander scored and tied the game on what was ruled a triple by Factor. One pitch later, Alysen Febrey hit a two-run home run. Febrey was robbed of another home run earlier in the game when Ochoa caught the ball over the right field wall.
Hayley Busby followed Febrey with a home run of her own. Her solo blast pushed the Cowgirls’ lead to 6-3.
“Iowa State made that unbelievable catch in right field over the wall to really take some big-time momentum away from us,” Gajewski said. “But, it was good to see us answer back. It was good to see Alysen get that big home run and then Busby follow it up, and (Sydney) Pennington had a big home run early to get us going. This is what good teams do. They just answer, and it’s coming from different people and that’s great.”
OSU senior Sydney Pennington hit a solo home run to give her squad a 1-0 lead. She is now one home run shy of tying the school record for career home runs.
In the first game of the day, OSU defeated Texas, 3-2, on the rare walk-off strike out. It was a wild ending for a game that included a brief skirmish on the infield, a bloody nose and two extra innings.
OSU and Texas gave Big 12 softball fans an entertaining start to the tournament, but, in the end, it was OSU which earned the victory.
The Cowgirls won the game in wild fashion. In the bottom of the ninth, OSU sophomore Karli Petty, who was 4 of 7 at the plate Friday, came to the plate with two outs recorded on just three pitches. Petty hit a single to put the game-winning run at first base.
Alexander followed Petty and appeared to strike out on four pitches. Her final swing missed a pitch that got away from Texas catcher Mary Iakopo.
Alexander sprinted to first as Iakopo’s throw was low and rolled into right field foul territory. Petty raced around the bases and safely slid into home plate for the walk-off victory.
“That was the best strikeout I’ve ever seen,” Gajewski said. “I don’t know that I’ve ever seen that like that in a game I’ve been in. It was wacky, but I saw it unfold. When (Alexander) took off and when their catcher came up and threw, she throws the ball so hard and any bad throw at all is going to be havoc, and it just turned into havoc. It was really cool to see.”
The two squads played through five scoreless innings after the Cowgirls tied the game in the bottom of the third inning. Junior Kiley Naomi hit a two-run moonshot of a home run, tying the game after Alexander reached on a bunt single.
Alexander later stole second base, but Texas shortstop McKenzie Parker kneed her in the head. Alexander was tended to at second base, but stayed in the game with gauze in her nose.
Texas scored a run in the first and third innings, respectively, but left two runners on base in each inning. The Longhorns stranded 12 runners on base in the game, compared to just six for OSU.
O’Leary threw a complete game, allowing nine hits and two earned runs. She struck out four and walked one batter.
Kelly Maxwell threw the first 6 1/3 innings for the Cowgirls. She gave up nine hits and two runs with the same strikeout and walk numbers as O’Leary.
“I didn’t think Kelly had her best stuff, but really fought through it,” Gajewski said. “She’s really grown up right in front of our eyes, and I’m very happy with the way she performed.”
Carrie Eberle finished the final 2 2/3 innings, giving up one hit and one walk while striking out three batters. Eberle started the second game and threw six innings. She allowed six hits and three runs in the win.
Follow Jimmy Gillispie on Twitter @jgillispie_stw for updates from Saturday’s championship contest.