By JASON ELMQUIST
STILLWATER — Nearly four years removed from a trip to the Women’s College World Series, the Oklahoma State softball program opens its fall exhibition schedule Wednesday with the last remaining holdovers from that successful season.
The once wide-eyed freshmen at the ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City are now seniors, and it is their turn to hopefully lead a very young Cowgirl program back to the postseason after falling short the past two seasons.
“This is the last class that went to the world series and they remember that. They remember that year and some of the things they went through as freshmen and how the seniors helped them,” OSU coach Rich Wieligman said.
The Cowgirls have four seniors on the roster, with only three — Ari Morrison, Tarah Ettinger and Simone Freeman — having been on the team that made it to the World Series. It has fallen upon those seniors — and the two other upperclassmen in juniors Shelby Davis and Gessenia DeLaCruz — to help bring together a squad that sports six freshmen, as well as a pair of new sophomore transfers.
“I think our seniors have done a great job of meshing everybody and getting everybody in,” Wieligman said. “They’ve spent a lot of time together already and really talking about OSU softball and getting everybody on the same page.”
The Cowgirls will now get an opportunity to see how it will translate to the field with a eight-game fall-season slate that begins with a home doubleheader against Independence (Kan.) Community College starting at 5 p.m. Wednesday and wraps with a doubleheader at Arkansas at the end of October. The double dip at the Cowgirl Softball Stadium will be free admission.
Besides the amount of youth on the team, the Cowgirls will also be looking to replace one of the program’s best pitchers in Kat Espinosa. Freeman, who played more of a No. 2 pitcher role the past three years, will now be called upon to be the leader of a staff which will also include freshmen Meagan Lively, Peyton Walker and Whitney Whitehorn.
“Even though we’ve got a young pitching staff, I think we’ve got some good young ones, too. So it won’t all just be on Sim,” the OSU coach said. “With the schedule you play, I think you really have to be smart about your pitching. Last year was tough on Kat because Sim was injured at the end of the year, and we don’t want to have that situation again this year.
“Hopefully we can develop our freshmen pitchers to where they can come in and help us out. Instead of having a No. 1, we could have a 1A, 1B type of situation again.”
It won’t matter how good the pitching is if the Oklahoma State offense can’t improve from the struggles of the past two seasons at the plate. The Cowgirls ranked at the bottom of the Big 12 Conference last year in batting average and ranks scored — finishing at least 55 runs behind every other team for the entire year.
“The key is you want to score more runs and to be able to do that you’ve got to hit better with people on base, and we’ve got to take our walks,” Wieligman said. “It’s little things like that, to me, that make up an offense. And we’re always looking to improve in those things.”
Jason Elmquist is sports editor of The Stillwater NewsPress.