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WCWS Roadmap: How Oklahoma State can raise the bar on its past success in OKC

May 29—Before this season began, the lack of experience and unknown elements to coach Kenny Gajewski's team created questions regarding how far they could go in relativity to the four seasons prior.

That was 114 days ago. Now, all of those questions have been answered:

Will the absence of several program faces on the field hold this team back? Surprisingly not a lot, thanks to new additions Karli Godwin, Rosie Davis, Caroline Wang and Jilyen Poullard.

Can Tallen Edwards be a leader for this team? Yes, but she won't do it alone.

Will the team power hitting numbers go back up? Oh, yes, they sure will — nearly double the team home runs compared to 2023.

Can Lexi Kilfoyl handle the pressure of filling the shoes of a previous ace? 100% yes, she'll become one of the best in the country. Ivy Rosenberry will also emerge into the spotlight.

Will Oklahoma State Softball get back to the Women's College World Series in 2024? Yes, they will.

With those questions answered, all that stands in OSU's way is a week's time and a field of seven other teams — all looking to capture the crown of glory in the softball world.

One very big question remains. What can the Cowgirls do to get farther than ever before in the Gajewski era?

Thanks to early-season scheduling, the path to the championship series has the potential to actually be quite familiar. Of the seven other teams also in OKC, Oklahoma State has faced four of them and holds a season record of 6-2 against those four schools.

Schedule the best to prepare for the best, and an impromptu arrangement between Gajewski and longtime friend Tim Walton, head coach of Florida softball, led to a February matchup in Gainesville. The then-ranked No. 6 Cowgirls won that game, 3-0, vs the then No. 16 Gators on less than a day's notice. Now, they will meet again in the opening round of the Women's College World Series.

This will be the third meeting between Oklahoma State and Florida in the WCWS since OSU's five-year stint began in 2019. In OSU's first WCWS game under Gajewski back in 2019, the Cowgirls defeated the Gators, 2-1, to advance to the winner's bracket. Two tournaments later, in 2022, OSU got the better of UF again. This time, the Cowgirls won, 2-0, in the second game of the tournament. The win sent OSU to the semifinal and put Florida on the path to elimination.

Now, the stage is set again. Florida is led by SEC Player of the Year, catcher Jocelyn Erickson, and five total All-SEC First Team selectees. The Cowgirls will likely see Gator ace pitcher Keagan Rothrock in the circle. Rothrock pitched six innings in the game earlier this season, and freshman Karli Godwin hit her first career home run to bring in all three runs in the game.

If Oklahoma State can get the better of Florida again, it would await the winner of Texas-Stanford. OSU took the season series from the Longhorns in Stillwater this season, so that's a big bonus for the Cowgirls. Texas has the deepest rotation of any remaining team in the tournament, but Oklahoma State has faced four of the five UT pitchers and have scored runs off all of them.

On the other side of the bracket, the favorite is No. 2 Oklahoma. The Cowgirls stole the series from the Sooners in Norman this year, and a rematch in OKC is very possible — the most likely spot being in the championship series. UCLA is another possible threat, and OSU took care of business against the Bruins earlier this year with a run-rule win in Los Angeles on the first road trip of the year.

Great pitching and timely offense from varying contributors got Oklahoma State through the regional and super regional rounds unscathed and with a plus-27 run differential. Those two things are what will either get OSU through the bracket or sent home early.

No team is hotter right now than Oklahoma State, who has won 15 of its last 17 games. A distributed offensive contribution from several sources is a large reason for that, and it will have to continue that way. One element that the 2024 team has that maybe none of the other four WCWS qualifiers had is the balance of power throughout the lineup. Five players have 10-plus home runs this season, which is more than any OSU team in the Gajewski area and the most since at least 2010.

The Cowgirls have threats at every spot in the lineup. If four or five of them can contribute each game, Oklahoma State has a phenomenal chance of winning some games in OKC. Especially with an award-winning pitcher in the circle.

Big 12 Pitcher of the Year Lexi Kilfoyl will have a tall task facing some of the best offenses in the country, but she's dominated in those scenarios all year long. It's also essential that the Cowgirls get quality innings from Ivy Rosenberry and maybe even Kyra Aycock (who has not appeared in a game this postseason).

Oklahoma State's goal before the season was to get back to the WCWS. That has been achieved. The next goal has to be to get over the hump and get to the WCWS Championship Finals. The Cowgirls were a win away in 2022 but dropped back-to-back games to Texas to end their season. OSU has a different recipe than its last four teams this time around, but maybe that will be a good thing.

The Cowgirls take on Florida in the first round of the WCWS at 8:30 p.m. Thursday. With a win, they would advance to the winner's bracket and face either Texas or Stanford at 6 p.m. Saturday. With a loss, they'd be back in action at 8:30 p.m. Friday.

Ryan Breeden is a sports reporter for Stillwater News Press. He can be contacted at rbreeden@stwnewspress.com.