Sunshine Cowgirl: How the Kilfoyl family fueled Lexi's journey to Big 12 Pitcher of the Year

May 15—The accolades are rolling in for senior pitcher Lexi Kilfoyl in her final season at Oklahoma State.

Three-time Big 12 Pitcher of the Week, Three-time NFCA Pitcher of the Week, USA Softball Player of the Year Top 10 Finalist, Big 12 Pitcher of the Year; the Cowgirls have one of the premiere pitchers in the country, but things nearly went quite differently for Kilfoyl. If not for her father's guidance, they would have.

As a young girl, Lexi described herself as a true "girly girl." She played softball for the first time at the age of six, but quickly lost interest.

"I wanted to be a professional cheerleader," Kilfoyl said.

Kilfoyl was ready to move on, but her dad, Homer Kilfoyl, was not. He presented an offer to Lexi: "If I was your coach would you keep playing?"

That was enough to buy some time. Lexi agreed to her father's offer and decided to give it one more shot. A decision that would alter the course of her entire life.

Once the deal was made, Homer had to hold up his end of the agreement — become a coach. Even though it was youth softball, the experience factor wasn't exactly there. He had never coached softball before, nor did he really know anything about it. None of that mattered.

Homer coached Lexi for nearly five years, but eventually stepped away once coaches in the area told him "your daughter has some talent, but she needs somebody to help her grow."

His daughter had outgrown his coaching abilities.

"He actually cried the day he told us he was quitting," Lexi said. "I remember him telling me he's only cried so many times in his life."

It was a passion project for Homer, who has spent 35 years as a Lead Aircraft Maintenance Technician for Delta Airlines in Orlando, Florida. It's nearly a two-hour drive to get to work, but it gave him the ability to spend the weekends with Lexi as well as his four other children.

Two of Lexi's brothers played collegiate athletics. Darin, named after Homer (which is a nickname), played college baseball for five years as a pitcher and finished his career at North Florida. Andrew is an offensive lineman for South Florida, and is entering his fourth year.

Homer's playing career was cut short, so he continued his passion by supporting — and sometimes coaching — his kids to reach levels he could not. In the process he helped Lexi find her love for softball.

"It's awesome being able to have your dad as your coach and look back at it and appreciate it," Lexi said. "I kept playing because of him and here we are."

During her high school playing days at Academy at the Lakes, Lexi won back-to-back state titles and was awarded the Florida Gatorade Player of the Year award for both the 2018 and 2019 seasons. She catapulted that into a commitment with the Alabama Crimson Tide.

While at Alabama, Lexi dealt with injury struggles and started to lose her love for the game once again.

"At one point softball became such a drag and I had talked to one of my friends about it," Kilfoyl said in an interview last fall. "I talked to my family and they reminded me that I only get so many years in college."

After three years in Tuscaloosa, Lexi entered the transfer portal. During that process, Homer convinced Lexi to reach out to a familiar face. Cowgirl coach Kenny Gajewski guided an eighth grade Lexi through a tour at the University of Florida back in the day. He left an impression on the family, and that created mutual interest.

It was a perfect match. Gajewski couldn't have imagined a better outcome.

"Our kids respect the heck out of her," Gajewski said. "They respect her as a teammate, they respect her as a person."

Two of her teammates at Oklahoma State have lifelong ties to the Kilfoyl family. Cowgirl slugger Micaela Wark was born in Wesley Chapel, Florida, just 13 miles from Lexi's hometown of Land O' Lakes. Wark and Kilfoyl were teammates on the Lady Phantoms coached by Homer Kilfoyl.

"I don't remember much, but it was so much fun playing with Lexi," Wark said. "We went to the same middle school too."

During her early softball career, Lexi also intersected with Tallen Edwards. The two were teammates for a short time, and Edwards even caught Kilfoyl's pitching. Lexi was 15 or 16 at the time. Edwards was a pre-teen.

"I thought I was young on the team," Lexi said.

Now in her final season, Lexi's 1.13 ERA tops the Big 12, as does her 21 wins. She ranks second in strikeouts, opposing batting average and complete games.

Her college career is coming to a close, but Lexi is playing her best softball.

"Lexi had her best year here, which was kinda cool," Gajewski said.

The evolution from disgruntled kid wanting to quit to now being an elite arm and impactful presence with Oklahoma State has been nothing short of destiny in Lexi's eyes.

"Everything happens for a reason," Lexi said. "Super grateful for (Homer) pushing me like that."

As for Homer, he travels to nearly every one of his daughter's softball games. He has become a bit of a celebrity within the team. Last Thursday, ahead of OSU's Big 12 tournament game against BYU, players repped "OklaHOMER State" shirts for Homer's birthday.

He may be Lexi's greatest supporter, but Homer explicitly stays as far away from Lexi as he can while she's in the circle. That's by design.

"He just hates to be in my eyesight," Lexi said. "When he gets angry or excited he gets very loud, so he tries to stay out in the corral as much as possible."

The imprint of her close family relationship heavily shapes the person that Lexi is to this day. That can even be reflected physically if you look behind her left ear. There, you will find a clover tattoo, one that reflects her Irish roots. Her mom, Christine, has a direct match.

"It was supposed to be a whole family thing, like all of us cousins were gonna get one," Lexi said. "Everyone else bailed at the last minute."

Lexi has delivered time and time again for Gajewski and the Cowgirls this season, and with that came the Big 12 Pitcher of the Year award. When she set goals for herself before the season, that was at the top of the list.

"It's a huge honor," Lexi said. "That was one of my biggest goals at the beginning of the year. It's a dream come true."

Now, Lexi will look to guide Oklahoma State back to the Women's College World Series for the fourth consecutive season. The Cowgirls are the No. 5 national seed in the NCAA Tournament and will host Kentucky, Michigan and Northern Colorado in the Stillwater Regional, starting Friday.