Becker RBI single vs. Kansas

Oklahoma State softball’s Rachel Becker knocks an RBI single during the fourth inning of the Cowgirls’ eventual 8-7 loss to Kansas on Friday morning at Hall of Fame Stadium in the first round of the Big 12 Softball Championship.

Rachel Becker had everything most softball players long for during a decorated four-year stay at Purdue. There was something missing, though.

She started every one of her 187 games in the black and gold. She set countless program records in West Lafayette, Indiana. She became only the second All-American in Boilermakers history to put the finishing touches on the 2022 season.

But Purdue never reached where Becker always aspired to be.

So it wasn’t a coincidence that she found herself at a cabin in Broken Bow on Sunday evening. Becker, a graduate student spending her final year of college softball at Oklahoma State, was less than an hour removed from finding out she and the Cowgirls were the No. 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

“This is exactly what I came to Oklahoma State for,” she said. “I’ve always wanted the opportunity to play for the trophy at the end, and at Purdue, I never even had the chance to play in a Regional.”

That’s become a regular thing since Cowgirls coach Kenny Gajewski was hired following the 2015 season. OSU hasn’t missed the postseason since then, and the program has hosted a regional in Stillwater every NCAA Tournament since 2019 (with 2020 being canceled due to COVID-19).

This week is no different.

The Cowgirls took the field at Cowgirl Stadium on Thursday morning, got in more than an hour of work, and then Gajewski was accompanied by two players to the third-base side of Allie P. Reynolds Stadium.

Not having an in-depth scout on Sunday for UMBC, OSU’s first-round opponent (3 p.m. Friday, ESPN+), Gajewski was asked what he’s learned about the Retreivers since then. He provided a brief breakdown, mentioned his plans to invite the opposing coaching staff into his home and reiterated what everyone in the room already knew.

“It wouldn’t matter if we’re playing them, Nebraska or Wichita State,” he said. “If we are the best version of us, look out.”

There isn’t a lot of information about UMBC readily available, Gajewski has discovered. The Retreivers’ games aren’t all televised – or at least broadcasted in some capacity – like OSU’s are. From what Gajewski has seen, he said it’s a team that’s well-coached, tough-nosed and plays catch pretty well.

But the days between Selection Sunday and kicking off another regional run were never about the opponent. Gajewski wanted – needed – them to be about the Cowgirls. And they have been.

Upon returning from the team’s weekend trip to Broken Bow, something that’s become an annual getaway to refresh before the postseason, the eighth-year coach laid out the data. Everything that contributed to the Cowgirls dropping 11 of 13 to close out the regular season is fixable.

OSU committed 24 errors throughout the first 42 games. The past 13 outings have produced 20. The Cowgirls are also walking about a batter-and-a-half more than usual during that same span.

“I think everyone’s just back to that mentality of having fun,” Cowgirls pitcher Kelly Maxwell said. “Having our name called as a six seed just kind of lit a fire and brought some fun back to the game, where we were playing at the beginning of the year. It kind of sparked that again.”

Maxwell, a redshirt senior, is expected to lead the charge in the circle for the Cowgirls, just as she and senior Lexi Kilfoyl have done up to this point. That’s something OSU has been able to hang its hat on throughout the campaign.

Gajewski and Co. have since added freshman Kyra Aycock to the rotation, providing the Pokes with an arm that’s defied early expectations and exceeded all others. Maxwell and Kilfoyl have combined to pitch 200-plus innings thus far. Aycock has contributed 90.1, compiling a record of 9-2 with a 2.32 ERA.

The Cowgirls’ defense, the one that’s propelled them through low-scoring stretches, seems primed to return to where it was before the late-season skid. And it starts in the circle.

That’s why everything will be on the table when OSU takes the field Friday afternoon.

“Really, like, we’ll do anything to win the first game. I don’t care what it is. We will do anything to win the first game,” Gajewski said. “We have to win the first game. That’s the mentality, right?”

There isn’t much left to do in preparation for what the OSU hopes is the program’s fourth run to the Women’s College World Series of the Gajewski era. A little more than 24 hours separate the Cowgirls end of practice on Thursday afternoon and first pitch against UMBC.

They aren’t sweating it, though.

After all, times like these are why Becker came to Stillwater. They’re why Gajewski wanted this job. They’re why Maxwell has become a mainstay in bright orange.

And they’re all hoping times like these are the ones to eventually look back on.

“We’re a day away from the part of the year that these kids live for and came to OSU for,” Gajewski said. “I think that they’re ready to get on one of those streaks that we can talk about for a long time.”

Follow News Press sports reporter Jon Walker on Twitter @ByJonWalker for updates on Oklahoma State athletics and more.

Trending Video

Recommended for you