Amid a slew of abandoned gloves and an occasional wayward black visor, OSU’s celebration began. The hugs revealed everything.
After the final out, a manic dogpile of players started in the infield. The party moved to left field, where OSU fans perched in the wooden decks above the field bounded over the black wall and onto the field’s warning track.
The Cowgirls beat Clemson 5-1 Friday night to win the Stillwater Super Regional and advance to the Women’s College World Series.
Morgan Day, OSU’s senior pitcher who threw five and a third strong innings, found herself in a swarm of fans. She said there was cheering — and even a hug or two — from fans she had never seen before.
Not something Day, an Illinois State transfer, was accustomed to.
“Where I came from, admission was free,” Day said. “Mainly the people in the stands were just parents and a couple alumni from the 70’s. It’s just kind of crazy, this is why I came here.”
Day did not want to bash Illinois State. She said she is proud of her time there. But she wanted to emphasize the feeling of winning games deep in the postseason and advancing to the WCWS. It is why she came to OSU (46-12).
“The stakes just keep getting bigger, but it takes actually experiencing it to realize, ‘Wow’ this is what I came here for,’” Day said.
The Cowgirls have advanced to their third consecutive Women’s College World Series. They made it in 2019 and 2021 as well, with the 2020 season being cut short.
“Very happy for this team,” coach Kenny Gajewski said. “For our fans, for our school, for our department to be able to represent us in OKC for the third year in a row. I think we’re coming in hot, and I can’t wait to get (to OKC) and be able to play that first game in front of a sold-out crowd.”
Perhaps the reason for the frantic hugging among strangers was a release for the toll the season took on the Cowgirls. An injury to senior Miranda Elish shuffled OSU’s rotation and thrusted Day into a key role. The Cowgirl batting lineup has evolved constantly as even accomplished hitters such as Karli Petty and Haley Busby went through slumps.
“It’s been a hard year. It’s been the hardest year,” Gajewski said. “This lineup doesn’t look the way we thought it was going to look. That’s the first thing. There’s been a lot of people like Karli (Petty) that have been in and out, but continues to work.”
Day and Petty, two players who have had inconsistent playing time in parts of the season, carried the day for the Cowgirls.
While Day pitched five innings of one-run ball, Petty hit a key home run in the fourth inning. She took an 0-1 pitch from Valerie Cagle over the left-center field wall to give OSU a 5-1 lead.
“I don’t go up to bat trying to hit a home run,” Petty said. “I’m just trying to do my best to get on base for the tam. I was so happy to hit a home run. I feel like it is a big momentum changer. It got the crowd going, it got our girls going.”
Petty’s home run served as a response to Clemson (42-17) scoring in the half inning prior. It would be the last run of the game. All-Big 12 First Team pitcher Kelly Maxwell pitched the final two innings for OSU. She kept Clemson off the board and finalized OSU’s place in the WCWS.
“It wears on me when I don’t start (Petty),” Gajewski said. “It wears on me when Morgan Day doesn’t get innings. It wears on me when I have to take Busby out. It’s really hard.”
The Cowgirls earned at least two more games to start players, and a chance to win their first national title. OSU will play the winner of Arizona and Mississippi State.
“To see people come back and go through it and then perform well in these moments, it’s gratifying,” Gajewski said.