'Riding the Elish wave': OSU's Miranda Elish dominates former team in sweep of Texas, leaves with injury

Scott Wright
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STILLWATER — Oklahoma State softball coach Kenny Gajewski referred to it as riding the Elish wave. 

The sixth-ranked Cowgirls navigated the highs and the lows of those waves through the three-game series against No. 16 Texas — star pitcher Miranda Elish’s former team — finishing off the sweep by taking both games of a Sunday doubleheader at Cowgirl Stadium by scores of 3-0 and 2-1. 

Those were the highs, led by Elish’s dominant performance in Sunday’s first game when she struck out 10 Longhorns and hit a two-run home run. 

The lows, however, came with pain. Elish was one out away from finishing off a two-hit shutout when she let loose a wild pitch and immediately reached for her throwing shoulder. She waved toward the OSU bench, and after a brief visit from coaches, she left the game with a shoulder injury.

“She’s obviously got some irritation,” Gajewski said. “She’s a little tight. We don’t know. We’ll get an X-ray tonight or tomorrow and get a scan and go through it all. She just feels tight. She’s passing all of her tests and all the things you look for.”

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Oklahoma State's Miranda Elish (40) had 10 strikeouts and a two-run home run in a 3-0 win over Texas, but left the game in the seventh inning with an apparent shoulder injury.

For the second game, Elish was wearing a sling on her right arm while Morgan Day and Kelly Maxwell combined to clamp down the bats of Texas (32-15-1, 7-5).

But the shoulder issue wasn’t the only injury Elish suffered this weekend. 

On Saturday night, when a tornado warning was issued for Stillwater, the teams took cover in the underground weight room at Gallagher-Iba Arena. Walking down the stairs, Elish slipped and bruised her tailbone, resulting in a trip to the emergency room and X-rays to make sure she hadn’t broken anything. 

Gajewski went to bed Saturday night not knowing if Elish would be able to play on Sunday.

“I saw her hit in the cage (Sunday morning) and I was like, there is no way she can go,” Gajewski said. “She flat-out is just tough. To give that gutty performance, to hit the home run — I could see in her swing, it wasn’t quite what we’ve been seeing. But she found a way.”

Before the shoulder injury, Elish was in top form as one of the most gifted all-around players in college softball. She had allowed two hits and one walk through 6 ⅔ innings, retiring the final 13 batters she faced. Both hits and the walk came in the third inning, loading the bases with one out before Elish struck out the next two hitters to end it.

Elish’s two-run home run came in the bottom of the third inning with the Cowgirls (38-7, 14-1 Big 12) leading 1-0 to provide some cushion. 

The Cowgirls were emotionally charged to play for their teammate in an important series for the team and personally for Elish, who starred for Texas in 2019-2020, and before that, for Texas coach Mike White at Oregon for two seasons. 

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“I think when you have a kid who’s been through a lot of hard things — and I’m not blaming anyone, I just know what she’s gone through. I’m not trying to point any fingers,” Gajewski said. “I know when kids leave, there’s a two-way street. I’m just proud of her for opening up wounds and letting them heal. 

“I think we’ve all been riding the Elish wave, to be honest. It’s just been an emotional ride, so I’m glad this weekend is over with. I think we wanted it pretty bad for her.”

Elish, who took off the 2021 season before transferring to OSU, had a rocky start to the season in her return to the game, but has settled back into her dominant form.

In Big 12 play, she has a 7-0 record with 52 strikeouts in 43 ⅔ innings pitched. In 41 at-bats in Big 12 games, she has a .415 average, including all six of her home runs and 22 RBIs. 

The long-term impact of Elish’s shoulder injury won’t be known until further examinations can be done, but her presence as a pitcher and cleanup hitter is hugely important to the Cowgirls’ postseason pursuits. OSU has a nonconference series at Florida State next week before wrapping up the regular season with Bedlam at OU on May 5-7.

Day, who made her first start in a Big 12 game and scattered seven hits over five innings, was already scheduled to pitch the series finale if OSU won the first game of the doubleheader. She, too, felt the emotion of the Elish wave all weekend.

“It’s been interesting, especially with the injury today,” said Day, who improved to 9-2 on the season. “Knowing she was playing her former school, it was really cool to see her excel against them, and see her confidence shine through.”

Regardless of Elish’s availability beyond Sunday, Day’s importance to the pitching staff is becoming more significant. She will be needed as either a second or third option throughout the postseason, and her performance against a stout lineup on Sunday was exciting for Gajewski.

Another bright spot was the re-emergence of Julia Cottrill’s bat. The junior catcher who transferred from Florida. After starting the season hot, she ran into a slump from late March to mid-April, but has hit safely in her last six games. 

Cottrill had a walkoff home run in the ninth inning of the series opener on Friday night for a 3-2 victory, then put the Cowgirls on the board with a solo homer in the bottom of the second inning of Sunday’s finale. 

“There for a stretch, I was struggling,” Cottrill said. “My teammates were picking me up, and it was my turn to pick them up right back. I’m super-happy I was able to figure it out and have their backs as well.

“Their continuous faith in me was so refreshing.”

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