'Let’s let her go': Karli Petty rewards Oklahoma State's faith in her vs. Arizona in WCWS opener

Scott Wright
Oklahoman
View Comments

With two runners on base and his team trailing by a run in the bottom of the sixth inning, Oklahoma State coach Kenny Gajewski thought it might be time to pinch-hit for Karli Petty.

The junior second baseman had struck out and popped out to shortstop in her first two at-bats, and Gajewski was prepared to pull the trigger.

“Let’s let her go,” his gut told him. “She just needs another at-bat.”

Seventh-seeded Oklahoma State defeated unseeded Arizona 4-2 in the first round of the Women’s College World Series on Thursday night because, first, Gajewski trusted his gut, and second, Petty delivered the biggest hit of her career.

Tramel's ScissorTales:WCWS coaches marvel at how NCAA softball World Series has evolved

Tramel:Oklahoma State keeps Kenny Gajewski, much to the relief of softball fans

Petty, who played high school ball at Southmoore, just 18 miles away from USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium, hit a three-run home run that forged the Cowgirls (47-12) ahead to a winner’s bracket game, where they’ll face 14th-seeded Florida (49-17) at 6 p.m. Saturday.

After leaving the bases loaded in the bottom of the fifth, trailing 2-1, the night was beginning to look grim for the Cowgirls as they struggled to break through against Arizona pitcher Hanah Bowen. 

But in the sixth, after falling behind 0-2 in the count, OSU’s Miranda Elish battled back to draw a leadoff walk, reaching base for the third time of the game. Then Sydney Pennington got her second hit of the night, a sharp single that was misplayed by the right fielder, allowing the runners to reach second and third.

That set the table for Petty.

“Going up to bat, I just knew with runners in scoring position, I needed to at least put the ball in play somewhere,” Petty said. “I really just focused on getting on top and driving it through the middle.”

The middle is exactly where she drove it, crushing a knee-high, outside pitch to straight-away center field, just left of the 220-foot sign for her fifth homer of the year and second in as many games.

'That’s a special thing':How Kelly Maxwell became Oklahoma State's ace on road to WCWS

OSU's Karli Petty rounds the bases after hitting a home run in the sixth inning against Arizona on Thursday.

'Once in a lifetime':Elish family celebrates sister reunion at WCWS with OSU vs. Arizona

It was Petty’s seventh hit in the last five games, four of which have gone for extra bases as she has emerged as one of the team’s most dangerous hitters during the NCAA Tournament. 

OSU pitcher Kelly Maxwell — who had been exceptional other than one mistake that led to a two-run Arizona homer in the top of the fifth inning — gave up a leadoff single to start the seventh, but struck out the next three batters to seal it.

Maxwell (19-4) allowed two runs — her first runs allowed since the Big 12 Tournament — on five hits with two walks and 14 strikeouts. She now has 55 strikeouts over 27 ⅔ innings pitched in the NCAA Tournament. 

Maxwell’s early dominance helped disguise some of the Cowgirls’ offensive struggles. They took a 1-0 lead with a double by Elish and an RBI single by Pennington, who was thrown out going for a double, in the bottom of the fourth.

“I was a little disappointed in the way we started this game.” Gajewski said. “They came out hacking and we didn’t. 

“We’re swinging at balls over our head on first pitches. We were just kind of out of character. I don’t know if we were trying to do too much or if it was just the moment.”

Gajewski pulled his team together in the fourth inning for a quick message.

She Said, He Said:The WCWS is here. So are the games, the joy and the Lemon Chills.

Tramel:Kelly Maxwell's mojo helps Oklahoma State softball complete a Big 12 sweep in WCWS

“Hey, we gotta chill out,” he told them. “Kelly’s pitching good. We just need to give some good at-bats here.”

And his veterans responded. 

“It’s cool to see Pennington do what she did here today,” Gajewski said. “Elish is just Elish. The moment is never too big. And then Karli, she has been going very, very well here.”

Through high school and college, Petty has played a decent number of games at Hall of Fame Stadium, even homered in the stadium before, having played several state tournament games and last year’s WCWS — but nothing that matched the magnitude of Thursday night, with a session-record 12,320 fans filling the stands and the game on the line.

“I won state a couple times here, and slowpitch state here, and I played travel ball here,” Petty said. “It’s really nice to come back to a place that’s really familiar, and it’s even better to come back with over 12,000 fans. It’s really exciting to see how much this place has grown from when I was little growing up. 

“It’s an amazing feeling to be in this moment in all aspects of my life.”

View Comments