Oklahoma State softball rallies past Nebraska, advances to NCAA Stillwater Regional final

Scott Wright
Oklahoman
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STILLWATER — Oklahoma State’s Hayley Busby sprinted toward third base and should’ve easily been put out on a force play.

But the ball squirted away from the Nebraska third baseman and Busby — not known for her speed — never hesitated. Even with coach Kenny Gajewski giving her the stop sign, Busby hopped to her feet and dashed for the plate.

She slid in safely to tie the game and erase a brief deficit for the seventh-seeded Cowgirls, who went on to score three more runs in the bottom of the fourth inning on the way to a 7-4 win over Nebraska on Saturday at Cowgirl Stadium in the winner’s bracket final of the Stillwater Regional of the NCAA softball championship.

It was the second such play by Busby in the last two days. She stole home on a double-steal that was not called by Gajewski in a 12-0 run-rule win over Fordham on Friday night.

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Oklahoma State's Sydney Pennington (21) celebrates with Hayley Busby (17) after she made a catch Saturday.

“Sometimes I might think I’m a little faster than I am,” Busby said with a laugh. “But I feel like when you get a good read on the ball, it doesn’t matter how fast you are, as long as you’re playing with your eyes.”

OSU senior Miranda Elish had a pair of doubles on Saturday, while Sydney Pennington and Karli Petty added two hits apiece. Chelsea Alexander drove in two runs to give OSU (43-12) the lead in its big fourth inning. And though pitcher Morgan Day wasn’t her sharpest in the circle, she went the distance, allowing four runs on five hits with three walks and two strikeouts.

The Cowgirls advance to the regional final at 3 p.m. Sunday, where they’ll face North Texas.

OSU will have to be beaten twice on Sunday, needing only one win to advance to next week’s best-of-three Super Regional round.

OSU’s top power hitter last season with 19 home runs, Busby has had to find other ways to contribute this year. On Saturday, she did it with her base-running, plus a couple of strong defensive plays at first base.

Busby had an 0-for-10 string at the plate in late April and early May, which she snapped with a two-run home run against top-ranked OU on May 6. Including that game, she’s hit safely in five of the last six, extending that with her 3-for-3 performance Saturday that included a double and two RBIs. Busby is 7-for-16 with five RBIs and four runs scored in the last six games.

“I’ve switched a lot of things up… just trying to get me in a better place, not really worrying about my power numbers, just worrying about having good at-bats and putting a good swing on balls,” said Busby, who has five homers this year. “It’s been a rough year just trying to find the swing that works for me and the swing that works consistently. I think I’m in a really good place to do that.”

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Oklahoma State's Karli Petty (14) slides into home for a score as Nebraska's Anni Raley (33) tries to catch the throw in the second inning of the Cowgirls' 7-4 win Saturday in Stillwater.

But her run in the fourth inning might’ve been the game-turning moment.

If the Nebraska fielders execute the force out, it would’ve cut down the lead runner for the second out of the inning with the Huskers leading 2-1. 

Instead, Busby came home to score the tying run and OSU added three more in the inning, plus one more in each of the next two innings to close the door. 

“It kind of opened things up for us,” Gajewski said of Busby’s run. “It put (Nebraska) in a bad spot. This time of year, errors, they eat you up. They’re like walks and hit-by-pitches. It’s momentum for the other team.”

And Gajewski forgave Busby for running through the stop sign.

“I said, ‘Stop, stop, stop!’ And she saw it well again and went, so I was good,” Gajewski said. “I’m here to coach and guide, but I’ve told these kids from when I got here the first year, do not be a robot. Play with your eyes. You guys are good players. That’s why you’re here. Let your instincts take over.”

Late in the game, Busby made a play on a softly hit line drive that appeared to be heading for a dead zone in the infield, just past the pitcher, but not deep enough for the second baseman to make a play. Yet Busby came sliding in from her position at first base to catch it for the out.

“That’s a play that is brutal in our game, because most first basemen don’t get there,” Gajewski said. “That could have really hurt us. That’s instinctual. She hasn’t played a whole lot of first base. But she’s played a whole lot of softball.”

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