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OU continues to ride the Kelly Maxwell Express, now one win away from fourth straight title

Bob Przybyloby:Bob Przybylo06/05/24

BPrzybylo

OKLAHOMA CITY – All this talk about OU softball going for its fourth straight national championship, but there’s just a different vibe right now.

The charge? It’s being led by someone who doesn’t have a ring. Well, at least for one more night. Because if Kelly Maxwell has anything to say about this Women’s College World Series, that first championship is coming Thursday.

Maxwell once again did her part in throwing another WCWS masterpiece in OU’s 8-3 victory against No. 1 Texas in Game 1 of the championship series Wednesday at OGE Field at Devon Park.

Game 2 is 7 p.m. Thursday. Like there’s no way Maxwell could possibly throw that game, right? At this point, though, don’t count her out.

“I think just the mental side of it,” Maxwell said. “This is it. This is my last opportunity. I’m just going to do everything I can to keep this team in it. I know that they have my back and I got theirs. That side of it.

“Then physically, I’m doing good. The staff here is doing everything they can to keep me going and feeling good.”

There are certain philosophies head coach Patty Gasso has. One of them is how crucial winning the first game of a postseason series is.

Because even though Maxwell went eight innings and 148 pitches in the win vs. Florida, she wanted the ball again. And OU (58-7) needed her to have it.

One mistake, a first inning home run by Mia Scott. Then it was back to work, back to dominance. Inning after inning, mowing ‘em up and mowing ‘em down against a great Texas offense.

“I’m just super proud of her and just kind of Kelly has always been a phenomenal pitcher, but I feel like she’s taken it to the next level just in her mental state of mind,” senior co-captain Kinzie Hansen said. “She’s given it up to the Lord, I know that.

“Being able to watch her development, not only from the time I’ve been playing her, but just in this year alone, our connection that we’ve built, just the friendship, has been pretty amazing. It’s been paying off. So I’m just super proud of her. She’s been dominating. Throwing through all quadrants of the zone at all different speeds. She’s not letting her foot off the gas. I’m just super proud.”

When you add it all up, it’s 267 pitches in 15 innings. Against Texas? Maxwell allowed four hits, one earned run, walked four and struck out eight. A very common theme has been Maxwell getting stronger as the night progresses.

In the bottom of the seventh, Maxwell had two strikeouts, including the final batter. She is now 23-2 this season.

“It’s a trust because her dream has been — she’s never been this far,” Gasso said. “And when now you’re in the championship series, adrenaline took over for her, as well. But she’s not going to walk away from this opportunity. Our training staff, Amar, Kennedy, our doctors have done a great job just getting her prepared for what’s coming. They’re going to continue to do it.

“I asked her if she wanted the ball. She looked at me like, Duh. I’m like, OK, we’re good. It’s fun to watch her live in the space right now. She’s having a blast. She’s pushing herself internally to places I don’t think she’s ever been before. It’s beautiful to see really.”

Jennings comes through again

Maxwell had some help, especially from Tiare Jennings. The senior co-captain came up big just like she has repeatedly throughout her career.

It started early, a two-run home run in the top of the first to plant the seed of doubt. Texas might be No. 1, but OKC is OU’s house.

“Very important,” Gasso said. “It’s something that we really talked about, is trying to set the tone, give Kelly an opportunity to get settled. Very, very important. It was a goal of ours. They checked a lot of boxes tonight.”

Jennings had three RBIs and was the first of three home runs for OU. Hansen (two-run) and Kasidi Pickering had back-to-back shots in the third to give OU a 5-1 lead. The Sooners eventually held a 7-1 lead before UT attempted to mount a rally.

Welcome back, Torres

The under the radar story keeps popping up. There’s a feel-good week continuing with Avery Hodge and Alynah Torres.

For one, Torres returned to action after that scary incident Saturday against UCLA where she lost a pop fly in the sun and got smacked in the eye.

And two, Hodge keeps delivering. Hodge was brilliant defensively on some tough grounders and continues to hold her own offensively.

Strangely enough, Torres didn’t register a plate appearance because she was hit by a pitch.

“She came back into the dugout and she just had this weird look,” Gasso said. “That hit by pitch turned into a run. She came into the dugout and she was not happy. I’m like, Hey, what? I just keep getting hit. I’m like, OK, it scored a run, we’re good, you’re back in.

“I’m really proud of Avery Hodge, as well. She had some really tough defensive plays. They’re quick and they can chop balls. You’ve got to attack it and pick ’em. She made two really outstanding plays. There’s a lot of underdogs or a lot of names that are not bright in the lights that are getting it done for us.”

Final word

“Our goal isn’t to go out there and kind of get in their face and intimidate them like that. Our goal is to kind of just hammer them in the way that we know how with Kelly on the mound and our staff doing everything they can and with our lineup making adjustments pitch by pitch. I mean, we’re looking forward to a good game tomorrow. I know that Texas, they’re not no softies. They’re not going to roll over. Coach White does a great job getting them pumped up for stuff like that.” – Hansen

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