An errantly thrown softball rolled helplessly through the outfield grass and with it went Oklahoma State’s pursuit of a program-defining moment.
A dazzling defensive team all season, the seventh-seeded Cowgirls committed two errors on one play, allowing three Texas runners to score and propelling the unseeded Longhorns to an unlikely 6-5 victory in a do-or-die Women’s College World Series semifinal game at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium.
OSU came into Monday’s action needing one win in two possible games to secure the program’s first-ever spot in the WCWS championship series against Bedlam rival and top-seeded Oklahoma.
But the Cowgirls suffered a 5-0 loss to Texas in the first game of the day, then let a 5-0 lead disappear over the final four innings of the second game to see their season end after a heartbreaking defensive collapse.
“We just didn't make the plays when it counted,” teary-eyed Cowgirl coach Kenny Gajewski said. “We weren't very clean. We didn't pitch clean. We didn't play defense clean. We didn't have enough good at-bats. We can look back at that one play because it had so much implication, but it didn't cost us the game. We just didn't score enough runs, and we just weren't clean enough all the way around.
“We just weren't good enough.”
OSU built a 5-0 lead with an RBI grounder by Chyenne Factor in the first inning, then two-run homers by Kiley Naomi and Karli Petty in the second and third innings, respectively.
Texas began its rally with a three-run homer from Courtney Day — her second in the two-game duel — in the top of the fourth to cut the lead to 5-3.
To begin the fifth, Texas’ Jordyn Whitaker walked and Mia Scott reached with a one-out single.
Bella Dayton roped a single to right field that was bobbled by OSU’s Karli Petty, allowing Whitaker to score. Petty’s throw to the infield was cut off by first baseman Hayley Busby, who threw toward second base, where Scott had drifted too far off the bag.
A good throw would’ve led to an out, but the ball sailed wide and bounced into left-center field, rolling all the way to the fence. Scott scored from second and Dayton came around from first to give Texas a 6-5 lead.
“We played pretty clean defense all season and just had a couple of mishaps there at the end,” said super-senior third baseman Sydney Pennington. “I'm just really proud of this team and what we've done in this World Series.”
The Cowgirls came into the game with the third-best fielding percentage of any team in the country at .982, committing 32 errors in 62 games. Monday marked just the second time all season they had more than two errors in one game, the other instance on Feb. 19 against South Florida.
“I think it was just important for us to keep our cool and just keep fighting with all of our hearts and trust in each other, and at the end of the day, it is what it is,” said Naomi, the Cowgirls’ senior shortstop. “Just keep fighting until the end.”
After falling behind, OSU managed only one baserunner — Chelsea Alexander, who got hit by a pitch and was wiped out by an inning-ending double play in the bottom of the fifth — while Texas ace pitcher Hailey Dolcini (24-11) closed the door on the Cowgirls’ season.
Dolcini entered in the bottom of the third inning in place of starting pitcher Estelle Czech and allowed only one hit, the two-run homer by Petty, with no walks and three strikeouts, though she hit three batters.
With Tuesday set to be a day off, Texas (47-20-1) will face OU in the best-of-three championship series beginning at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday on ESPN.
The Cowgirls (48-14) finish the season tied for third with UCLA in the WCWS field, but will wonder what could have been as the summer rolls past and turns into the fall.
“It happens,” said OSU starting pitcher Kelly Maxwell, who wasn’t her sharpest, but was good enough to win. “I just think going into the future we just have to learn from our mistakes and get better.”
Maxwell (21-5) admitted she was battling fatigue, throwing her third game in five days with the pressure that comes with the WCWS. She allowed three earned runs on four hits with five walks and 11 strikeouts, needing 131 pitches to get through 6 ⅔ innings.
She left to a large ovation from the mostly Cowgirl crowd of 12,135 and was replaced by Morgan Day, who got a strikeout for the only out she recorded.
Morgan Day suffered the loss in Monday’s first game, allowing five runs on five hits with no walks and three strikeouts. She had beaten Texas in her previous two meetings with them, including the semifinals of the Big 12 Tournament.
Prior to Monday, OSU had won all four previous meetings with Texas this season, and 11 of the last 12 dating back to last year. That included two of three in the 2021 Stillwater Super Regional.
But for 5 hours and 20 minutes on Monday night, the Longhorns were the better team, and OSU’s season ended one win shy of playing for a national championship.
“I'm not really thinking about the game too much right now,” Pennington said. “Just trying to make some more memories with my friends and just soak all this in one last time. I think we all can go back and see that we could have done things differently, but it is what it is.
“I'm just glad that we keep setting the bar higher and higher each year for OSU.”
This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Texas Longhorns beat OSU Cowgirls, reach NCAA softball WCWS finals