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Tallen Time: Edwards shining in natural leadership role with Cowgirl softball

Mar. 1—TAMPA, Fla. — A steady mist-esque rain trickled onto the giant gray tarp outstretched over South Florida softball's infield.

Oklahoma State was on day eight of its 10-day journey through Florida's western coast, and were stuck riding out a storm four and a half innings into its second game of the day.

The Cowgirls found themselves seated along the third-base dugout's benches, the only way to stay out of the elements. Coach Kenny Gajewski took his post at the far end closest to home plate, and two spots down sat Tallen Edwards.

Even with 34 other players and staff in the dugout, Edwards stood out. She was the only one with her white batting helmet still on, and she kept it on the entire time.

Edwards was on deck when the stoppage began — which ended up lasting over an hour. It was no guarantee that she would even bat that inning, with there being two outs and Tia Warsop still to bat before her.

The conversation topics during the delay ranged from Edward's time playing travel softball and making frequent trips to Florida all the way to her craving for a ham and cheese sandwich. With mustard. And Doritos inside the sandwich. She even mentioned the possibility of laying a bunt down in her upcoming at bat.

Ultimately, it was not a bunt. Warsop reached on a perfectly placed slap single, which set Edwards up with two runners in scoring position and a chance to do some damage. She did just that, driving a fastball through the right side of the infield to score both runs.

Oklahoma State's offense kept the rally going after that and never did record that final out of the fifth, winning 10-1 in run-rule fashion over Yale. This was everything Gajewski could have envisioned when thinking about Edwards emerging as this team's leader.

From the sandwich down to the swing.

"Tallen was born to be in this," Gajewski said prior to the season. "She's been running around the ballpark chasing her sister around since she was three or four. When she was 12 or 13 she was playing on her sister's 18U team. I watched it."

Gajewski also watched as Edwards made big play after big play in the Sunshine State. A first pitch home run to lead off the game against No. 12 LSU. Throwing a runner out at first from her knees at Stetson. Reaching base in nine of the 10 games.

That stuff is great, but the real leadership qualities get figured out in the tough moments. That happened in the second inning against Stetson.

OSU found itself taking a haymaker from the Hatters to begin the game, and after back-to-back errors on the infield, the score was 6-2 in favor of Stetson. Edwards made the last of those errors, and that's when she called the infielders together for a meeting.

You could see an immediate demeanor change. A switch was flipped. The reset button had been hit.

"I debated going out there after Tallen made that error," Gajewski said. "I saw Tallen pull everybody in and I was like 'I need to let them take care of this themselves.' There's nothing I can really do...We just needed to stabilize."

Stabilize they did.

From that moment on, the Cowgirls outscored the Hatters 9-0 to win the game 11-6. That's a leader.

"She can single handedly set the tone for this team," Gajewski said of Edwards.

For Tallen, this is what she's been waiting for. After graduating a year early from Southmoore High School, she immediately found her role with the 2023 Cowgirls. With so many veteran players on that roster, including the likes of Cheyenne Factor, Rachel Becker and Kiley Naomi, Edwards had to put her leadership abilities to the side for a season.

She still played a huge factor in the team's fourth straight WCWS run, settling into the outfield for the first time in her softball career and even being named a D1 Softball Freshman All-American for her efforts.

Her time in left field has come to a close, and she is happily back on the dirt. She's also back doing what she loves best. Leading.

"I felt more uncomfortable my freshman year not being able to do that," Edwards said. "I feel like I've always been a leader everywhere I go."

If you look at any lineup card for this season so far, you'll see Edwards' name right at the top. At the leadoff spot.

Another responsibility of a leader and a tone setter.

Also another thing she's already used to.

"I've usually been a leadoff for about six years prior," Edwards said. "Was always a leadoff or near the top of the lineup so I'm excited to get to do that again. I feel like it sets a tone. Sets the standard."

A standard not only for herself but for her teammates. After many of her first at bats in a game, you could see Edwards either talking to Claire Timm or to Karli Godwin while walking back to the dugout.

As a back half of the order batter last season, Edwards already knew what to expect from opposing pitchers. As the one taking the first looks now, she's the one relaying messages.

"At the top of the lineup you're given a lot of looks," Edwards said. "Making sure you're seeing a lot of pitches for your teammates. Writing your own scouting report."

Overall, Edwards led the Cowgirls to an 8-2 record while in Florida with wins against No. 4 Washington and No. 16 Florida.

It's rare for such high expectations to be placed on a sophomore, but Gajewski knows he's not dealing with just any underclassman. He's said previously "the situation is not too much for her," and so far he's proving to be right.

Tallen Edwards always has been and always will be the one to embrace the pressure. The one to give everything she has. The one to keep her batting helmet on during an hour-long rain delay.

"I think it will only help her to be one of the best players to ever play here," Gajewski said.