STILLWATER — Sitting on the patio of a cabin in Broken Bow on Sunday evening while his team enjoyed a brief retreat before the start of the NCAA softball tournament, Oklahoma State coach Kenny Gajewski was ready to get to work on his next opponent.
While two of the three teams coming to Cowgirl Stadium for this weekend’s NCAA Regional are familiar foes, sixth-seeded OSU’s opening opponent is a new face.
The Cowgirls open with the University of Maryland, Baltimore County at 3 p.m. Friday to kickstart the four-team, double-elimination bracket. Wichita State and Nebraska — which have faced OSU twice each this season — will meet at 6 p.m. to conclude opening-round play.
“I don’t know anything,” Gajewski said of UMBC, which has never faced OSU in softball. “We’ll be breaking down on our video systems who they are and what they’re about.
“We’ll be able to pull up their last games on ESPN+, so we’ll do that here in the cabin as a staff.”
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Just as urgent is the work Gajewski wants to do on his own team.
Having lost 11 of its last 13, the coach has been working to diagnose the difficulties, and it doesn’t take a deep analytical dive to identify sources of the struggles.
During the first 42 games, of which OSU won 39, the defense committed 21 errors, including a string of 10 errorless games. In the last 13 games, the defense has 17 errors, including eight in the last three games.
The pitching staff walked or hit 2.6 batters per game in the first 42, and 3.8 over the last 13.
And the offense, though beginning to pick up the pace in the last few games, has left 84 runners on base in the last 13 games — 78 of those in the 11 losses.
“I haven’t slept a whole lot, to be honest,” Gajewski said. “I’ve been just raking through my mind where we’ve gone wrong.
“We’re giving free opportunities away on defense. We’re giving them away out of the circle. When we really look at that, the way we can pitch and the way we know we can score — and we have for the better part of our year — I think it’s real easy stuff in our control that we can clean up. We clean that stuff up and we are one of the top teams in this country.
“I think we’re gonna be able to show them where our team fell apart, and they are things we can fix. I know we can get that done and I expect us to play very well.”
Here’s a look at the teams coming to the Stillwater Regional.
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No. 2 Wichita State Shockers
Record: 43-10 (16-2 AAC)
NCAA Tournament history: Seventh appearance, third in a row (6-12 record)
Leading hitter: Senior shortstop Sydney McKinney is not only the Shockers’ best hitter, but the only player in Division I softball batting above .500. She enters the regional with a .519 batting average, including five home runs, seven triples and 32 runs batted in. Batting leadoff, McKinney has struck out just seven times in 187 at-bats and has stolen 16 bases in 21 attempts.
Leading pitcher: While freshman Alex Aguilar has better numbers (1.54 ERA, 14-2 record), junior Lauren Howell most often gets the ball as the Shockers’ starter. She has an 18-4 record with a 2.32 ERA and 86 strikeouts over 130 innings pitched.
OSU’s all-time record vs. Shockers: 86-16 (Shockers won last two meetings)
Last meeting: 3-1 Shockers win in eight innings (April 18)
Short hops: The Shockers earned an at-large bid into the tournament after getting upset by Tulsa, 2-1, in the American Athletic Conference Tournament. … As a team, the Shockers are fifth nationally with a .330 batting average. … The Shockers have a few Oklahoma connections on their team, with senior first baseman Zoe Jones from Mustang and sophomore catcher Lainee Brown from Choctaw. Former OU softball player Nicole Pendley is in her second season as the team’s director of operations.
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No. 3 Nebraska Cornhuskers
Record: 34-20 (13-10 Big Ten)
NCAA Tournament history: 27th appearance, second in a row (68-57 record)
Leading hitter: While freshman Katelyn Caneda owns the best batting average among regulars (.373), the big numbers come from the Andrews sisters. Billie, a junior shortstop, has a team-best 15 home runs with a .678 slugging percentage, and Brooke, a senior center fielder, has 11 home runs and a team-best 44 RBIs.
Leading pitcher: Senior Courtney Wallace has appeared in 44 of 54 games with 29 starts with a 23-14 record. She has a 3.45 ERA with 126 strikeouts in 205 innings.
OSU’s all-time record vs. Nebraska: 49-48 (OSU has won last three)
Last meeting: 3-1 OSU win (Feb. 24)
Short hops: Coach Rhonda Revelle was a member of Nebraska’s inaugural team in 1982 that reached the Women’s College World Series… She took over the Huskers prior to the 1993 season and has won 1,095 games as their head coach, guiding the team to the NCAA Tournament in 22 of her 31 seasons… A former member of the Big 12 Conference, Nebraska played four games this season against current Big 12 teams, losing twice to OSU and once to Kansas with a win over Iowa State. … Nebraska also has faced Wichita State twice this season, losing 10-8 and 10-1 in five innings at the Shocker Classic in Wichita, Kansas.
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No. 4 UMBC Retrievers
Record: 26-15 (15-4 America East)
NCAA Tournament history: sixth appearance, fourth in a row (3-11 record)
Leading hitter: Senior Madison Wilson leads the team in batting average (.337), home runs (8) and RBIs (27). She has only eight strikeouts in 101 at-bats.
Leading pitcher: Sophomore Kya Matter has a 13-5 record with a 1.77 ERA, striking out 126 batters over 126 ⅔ innings pitched, while Courtney Coppersmith has a 1.79 ERA with 123 strikeouts in 82 innings.
OSU’s all-time record vs. UMBC: First meeting
Short hops: UMBC became a nationally known institution when its men’s basketball team defeated Virginia in the 2018 NCAA Tournament, becoming the first No. 16 seed to defeat a No. 1 seed in tournament history. … UMBC coach Chris Kuhlmeyer has guided the Retrievers to an America East Conference title and NCAA Tournament berth in every possible season since being hired in the summer of 2018. Among his previous coaching stops, Kuhlmeyer spent 2006-09 at Wichita State. … UMBC played two opponents from power conferences this season, losing 4-1 to Penn State and 9-0 to Maryland.
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Friday, May 19
Game 1:No. 6 Oklahoma State (41-14) vs. UMBC (26-15), 3 p.m. (ESPN+)
Game 2:Wichita State (43-10) vs. Nebraska (34-20), 6 p.m. (ESPNU)
Saturday, May 20
Game 3:G1 winner vs. G2 winner, 2 p.m.
Game 4:G1 loser vs. G2 loser, 4:30 p.m.
Game 5:G3 loser vs. G4 winner, 7 p.m.
Sunday, May 21
Game 6:G3 winner vs. G5 winner, 3 p.m.
Game 7:G6 winner vs. G6 loser (if necessary), 5:30 p.m.
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