'It just takes time': How Oklahoma State's Miranda Elish is rediscovering her talents as a softball star
Oklahoma State’s Miranda Elish seems to have rediscovered the softball star she had once been.
When it comes to softball, Miranda Elish has long been able to do just about whatever she wanted. But after taking more than a year off from the game, and transferring from Texas to Oklahoma State, Elish found softball to be a struggle — compared to her previously sky-high standards.
Her pitching control was off, leading to a lot of walks in her early outings this season. At the plate, her swing hadn’t yet found its groove.
February was a rough month for Elish, who in 2020 was named Softball America’s National Player of the Year for her performance at Texas in the COVID-shortened season.
March, however, has been quite different.
As the No. 6-ranked Cowgirls prepare for a three-game series at Baylor, beginning at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Elish is re-emerging as an elite college softball player.
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“She’s special,” OSU coach Kenny Gajewski said. “She’s one of the best softball players I’ve ever coached.”
In that amazing 2020 season at Texas, Elish had a 1.53 earned-run average with opponents batting .158 against her. At the plate, she had a .370 batting average and .722 slugging percentage.
But in the early weeks of this season, those types of numbers seemed like a distant memory.
Through her first 36 ⅔ innings pitched this season — from Feb. 10 to March 4 — Elish allowed 22 runs on 41 hits and walked 21 batters. Her ERA was over 4.00 most of February, finally dipping into the 3s after a solid performance against Texas A&M on Feb. 27.
On March 9, the page turned.
Elish threw a no-hitter against Minnesota, walking one and striking out eight in seven innings. Nine days later, she no-hit Wichita State in a five-inning run-rule victory. In between, she had a five-inning performance in which she recorded 13 of the 15 outs by strikeout.
Over her last 26 innings pitched, she has allowed two runs on eight hits with 33 strikeouts and four walks. Her ERA has dropped from 3.63 on March 4 to 2.35.
At the plate to begin the season, Elish was seeing sparse at-bats. She’d pinch-hit on occasion, but made only three starts in the batting order through OSU’s first 14 games. She had four singles and three walks in 16 plate appearances in that time.
But in batting practice, Gajewski was noticing improvement in Elish’s swing.
“A few weeks ago, we just said, 'Man, I think she’s gotta hit,'” Gajewski said. “The mentality, it’s real. Her swing is very repeatable. It’s short.
“It just takes time. To hit at this level, against this type of pitching is not easy. But we saw some things early on that we were really impressed with, and she’s been able to carry them on into the games.”
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In March, Elish has been in the batting order 10 times and made one pinch-hitting appearance over 17 games. She often hits as the designated player when she’s not pitching.
She has 15 hits in her last 29 at-bats with four doubles, four home runs and 13 RBIs, raising her average from .308 to a team-best .452.
Last weekend in three games against Texas Tech, she went 8-for-8 with four home runs — including two in one inning — and nine RBIs.
What’s been working for her?
“I have no idea,” Elish said with a humble laugh. “Just eating good.
“Since January, I’ve gone through three different stances, trying to get back to my old stance. So it was tough. I feel like a lot of it is mental, though, just trusting yourself and trusting the process. The coaches have been very patient with me and have really worked hard to get me back to where I was.”
As a team, OSU is 15-2 in March and 25-6 overall, and Elish’s return to form is a big piece of that improved record.
“She’s a big personality, and you’re finally seeing that,” center fielder Chyenne Factor said. “The first couple weeks, she was trying to get back into it, because she’d been out a year-and-a-half. But now, her hitting, it’s unbelievable. That’s what we faced when she was at Texas.
“That’s what we knew she could be, and that she was going to be — her pitching and everything.”
Elish’s presence in the dugout has been vital as well, providing a voice of experience from someone who has been at the top of the game virtually her entire career.
“It’s just so cool seeing her progress,” shortstop Kiley Naomi said. “Watching her grow with us and click with us so easily, it’s just great. She’s like a hype man and I love it. On and off the field, we know that we can go to her as a leader, as a friend, for anything we need. That’s something that maybe our team was missing, and she’s brought that to the table.”