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Who will Oklahoma State softball face in WCWS opener? Three things to know about Florida

College teammates and longtime friends, Kenny Gajewski and Tim Walton can’t stay away from each other on the softball field.

Gajewski’s Oklahoma State team wasn’t scheduled to play Walton’s Florida squad at all this season, yet now, the two are about to meet on college softball’s biggest stage in the first round of the Women’s College World Series.

Fifth-seeded OSU will meet No. 4 Florida at 8:30 p.m. Thursday in the first round of the WCWS at Devon Park, three months after the two coaches scheduled an impromptu regular season matchup.

With OSU losing some games to rainouts in Clearwater, Florida, in late February, he called his former OU baseball teammate and they promptly put together a top-10 showdown on a Monday night in Gainesville, Florida.

The Cowgirls won that game 3-0 in the only regular-season meeting between the teams during Gajewski’s OSU tenure. They’d prefer not to play each other, but it just keeps happening.

In fact, this won’t be the first WCWS meeting between the coaches. They also matched up in the first round in 2019, then again in the second round in 2022, with OSU taking both.

Gajewski’s second season at OSU ended with a loss to Florida in the Gainesville Regional, and overall, he has a 4-2 record against his former boss.

Gajewski, now in his ninth season at Oklahoma State, left Walton’s Florida staff to take the job just a few years after Walton had convinced Gajewski to give softball a shot.

And here the two friends are, preparing to face each other once more in OKC.

Here are three things to know about Florida:

More: How Oklahoma State softball's Jilyen Poullard overcame her 'mental warfare' to ignite team

OSU coach Kenny Gajewski, Florida coach Tim Walton and OU coach Patty Gasso talk following press conference before the 2019 Women's College World Series.
OSU coach Kenny Gajewski, Florida coach Tim Walton and OU coach Patty Gasso talk following press conference before the 2019 Women's College World Series.

Get to know the Gators

  • Record: 51-13 (17-7 SEC)

  • NCAA Tournament history: 102-52, 24th appearance

  • WCWS history: 12th appearance (27-20); two national championships

  • Leading hitter: Redshirt senior Skylar Wallace is a power hitter with speed in a deep Florida lineup. She has 14 home runs and 67 RBIs to go along with 36 stolen bases in 38 attempts. But don't overlook the trio of Wallace, Jocelyn Erickson and Reagan Walsh, all of which have big-time power.

  • Leading pitcher: Freshmen Keagan Rothrock has a 2.43 ERA in 45 appearances, including 40 starts in the circle. She's struck out 186 batters and thrown a whopping 24 complete games.

  • OSU’s all-time record vs. Gators: 4-4

  • Last meeting: 3-0 win, Feb. 19 in Gainesville, Florida

  • Short hops: The Cowgirls have won three straight matchups with the Gators, with two coming at the WCWS in 2019 and 2022. … OSU has just two players from Florida, including ace pitcher Lexi Kilfoyl. Outfielder Scotland David is also from the state.

More: How Oklahoma State softball's 'misfits' put defensive puzzle together to reach WCWS again

Gators bring high-powered offense

Only Miami-Ohio has scored more runs than Florida’s 499 this season. The Gators average 7.8 per game, and are sixth nationally with 91 home runs — one behind OSU.

Florida has four players with at least 13 homers and five with at least 40 RBIs.

Outfielder Korbe Otis is a table-setter near the top of the order, batting .449 with a .584 on-base percentage, though she adds plenty of production with nine homers and 53 RBIs.

The heart of the order is anchored by Skylar Wallace, Jocelyn Erickson and Reagan Walsh, a trio that has combined for 44 home runs and 210 RBIs.

Erickson’s name might sound familiar to Cowgirl fans. The sophomore catcher from Phoenix began her career at OU last season.

On top of Florida’s scary run production, the team also leads the power conferences in stolen bases with 107 in 116 attempts. Wallace is 36 of 38 on stolen base attempts.

More: How Oklahoma State softball's Micaela Wark saw season turn since father's home run catch

Florida Gators Keagan Rothrock (7) during Game 3 of NCAA Super Regionals between University of Florida and Baylor University at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium in Gainesville, FL on Sunday, May 26, 2024. [Chris Watkins/Gainesville Sun]
Florida Gators Keagan Rothrock (7) during Game 3 of NCAA Super Regionals between University of Florida and Baylor University at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium in Gainesville, FL on Sunday, May 26, 2024. [Chris Watkins/Gainesville Sun]

Counting on Rothrock

While her name might sound more fitting for a character from "The Flintstones," Keagan Rothrock has been a steady force leading the Gators’ pitching rotation.

She has a 30-7 record with a 2.43 ERA, striking out 186 batters over 233 ⅔ innings, though her most impressive statistic might be her 24 complete games in 40 starts, which is the third-most nationally and most of any pitcher in the WCWS field.

As a team, the Gators have an ERA of 2.78, with Ava Brown eating up the second-most innings. She has a 16-5 record and 3.35 ERA with 67 strikeouts in 121 ⅓ innings.

More: Oklahoma State softball's Lexi Kilfoyl among 3 finalists for Player of the Year award

What happened last time?

In determining his starting pitcher, Gajewski will have to weigh the success of his ace, Lexi Kilfoyl, in the Feb. 19 meeting with Florida versus the familiarity the Gator hitters might’ve gained in that matchup.

Kilfoyl went the distance in the 3-0 win, allowing three hits (all singles) and two walks while striking out six.

That was the first of two shutouts suffered by the Gator offense this season.

The OSU offense wasn’t wildly successful that night either. A single by Scotland David to lead off the third inning, followed by a one-out single from Tallen Edwards, set the stage for Karli Godwin’s three-run home run that provided all the scoring.

The teams’ last three meetings, dating back to the 2019 WCWS, have been pitching duels, with no team scoring more than three runs in any game.

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Oklahoma State softball: Get to know Florida, Cowgirls' WCWS opponent