Video by: Logan Smith
Story by: Justin Packard
Audio by: Greg Benson
In 2011, the Oklahoma State Cowgirls softball team finished the season in Oklahoma City at the Women’s College World Series.
Since that run, success has been hard to come by in Stillwater.
Last year, the Cowgirls finished 26-28 and only 5-13 in the Big 12. The Cowgirls will try to duplicate to that former success with a young squad.
There are only two seniors on the team, center fielder Shelby Davis and shortstop Gessenia DeLaCruz. There are 11 underclassmen on the roster, but coach Rich Wieligman isn’t concerned.
“I think this team will be able to accept any challenges that is ahead of it,” Wieligman said.
One of those challenges is replacing the power of former Cowgirls Tarah Ettinger and Ari Morrison. Ettinger hit seven home runs and had 34 RBIs last year and Morrison finished with 24 RBIs.
Wieligman said he hasn’t seen anyone take up the gauntlet of being a dependable power hitter yet, but there are several players on the roster who have that potential.
“We have more kids one through nine that are able to drive in runs than we’ve had in awhile,” Wieligman said. “That’s what I’m looking forward to: seeing the depth of our lineup and what it brings.”
One of those players who could become a power hitter is freshman second baseman Vanessa Shippy. Shippy hit .622 during her senior season at Lake City High School in Idaho. She had 34 extra-base hits and 40 RBIs. She was named the Gatorade Idaho Softball Player of the Year.
Shippy works just as hard off the field as she does on the field. She strives to know as much as she can about the opposing pitchers so she knows what to expect.
However, her favorite part of the game doesn’t come at the plate or in the film room.
“Offensively, (I love) just being on the base paths,” Shippy said. “Base running is definitely my favorite part of the game.”
She is good at it, too. Shippy stole 31 bases in 28 games during her senior season.
Shippy won’t be the only Cowgirl stealing bases. Shelby Davis raced to 41 stolen bases last year. That is more than three times as many as she had her sophomore year and helped her lead the Big 12 in stolen bases.
Davis has 64 stolen bases in her career and has been picked off only 11 times. Even with all of that success, Davis said she wants to improve on her numbers.
“I actually would do extra running three times a week with our speed and conditioning trainer so I worked really hard — I worked really hard — to get where I was last year and it’s going to be no different this year,” Davis said.
Davis has one goal on offense this year: 52 stolen bases.
That would set a new Oklahoma State and Big 12 record, breaking the one set in 2007 by Shanel Scott.
Wieligman said Davis is an integral part of the offense because of her ability to steal.
“A lot of times if you have to bunt, or you’re trying to move a runner in hit and run situations, you’re giving up an out, where with her (you don’t have to waste an out),” Wieligman said.
One change that will send shockwaves through the offense is the arrival of hitting coach Mark Ryal. Ryal coached at the University of South Alabama last year, finishing 42-14 with 244 runs and an appearance in the regional final of the NCAA Tournament.
Wieligman said Ryal brings in a different style than the Cowgirls have used in the past. This is one area where the youth of the team is an advantage. With mostly underclassmen, they haven’t had a chance to learn under one coach for multiple seasons.
Wieligman said Ryal brings in a new strategy to hitting that the team has latched onto.
“He’s got them to relax, he’s brought in a little different of a philosophy,” Wieligman said. “We’re on the same page, but he brings a different way of presenting it. The girls have bought in and are working hard and are swinging the bats really well.”
Shippy said Ryal has helped her improve her swing dramatically since the first week of practice, but she is most excited to try it in a game situation.
The Cowgirls have their work cut out for them as they try to produce runs with a young team. Wieligman said it comes down to getting timely hits. The Cowgirls had a .290 batting average last year and 209 runs, but it could have been much better. They left more than 400 runners on base.
“I think the potential is there to do a lot better offensively, at least they’ve shown that through our scrimmages in January and I’m not even going to say anything about it, let’s just go swing and hit and see what we can do,” Wieligman said.