STILLWATER — Scotland David and her older sister, Savannah, didn’t have a lot of heart-to-heart discussions when they were younger.
Separated in age by only a couple of years, the sisters spent most of the time arguing when they were teenagers, yelling at each other and chasing each other around the house.
“We definitely fought,” Scotland said with a smile.
But there was one sister-to-sister chat Scotland remembers clearly. It came after she made an official recruiting visit to Oklahoma State, a place the sisters had been several times for overnight summer softball camp and a program where Scotland was seriously considering playing softball.
“I can’t come here,” Scotland remembers Savannah telling her. “I’m sorry. This place is not for me.”
That didn’t totally shock Scotland; she always thought of Savannah as her “perfect opposite.”
“But I think you should come here,” Savannah told her younger sister. “I can tell how much you love it.
“I won’t be here, but I’ll support you through it.”
Scotland, now a fourth-year senior for the Cowgirls, had no idea how true that would be.
Savannah died unexpectedly a little over eight years ago.
She was only 16.
As OSU and the rest of the college softball world prepare for next week’s season openers, there is anticipation at Cowgirl headquarters. Several longtime program stalwarts including Chyenne Factor, Kiley Naomi and Kelly Maxwell are gone, so who will step into the void? Tallen Edwards? Lexi Kilfoyl? Jilyen Poullard?
But those inside the program say they’ve already got a leader in David, whose first three seasons at OSU have largely been derailed by injury.
“I think it takes a special person to capture the respect and attention and love from a team when you feel like you haven’t really fully gotten to be a part of it the way that you wish that you could,” OSU hitting coach Vanessa Shippy-Fletcher said. “I think that speaks to her, who she is and how tough she is.
“She represents the Cowgirl Way. A lot of our kids I’d say that about, no doubt. But Scotty is the Cowgirl Way.”
Outside the program, most people know David for her injuries, four major ones that impacted every season she’s been in Stillwater. A few folks might also remember that she was the Cowgirl pinch runner tagged out by a diving Odicci Alexander on a suicide-squeeze play during the 2022 Women’s College World Series.
But those who know David best say she hasn’t been defined by any of that. She’s too strong to allow that to happen.
And a lot of that was born out of her sister’s death, a terrible tragedy that changed how Scotland David lives.
‘She just … didn’t wake up one morning’
Scotland David doesn’t remember much about the weeks and months after Savannah died.
It was a blur.
Only an eighth grader at the time, Scotland recalls that family and friends descended on the David house in Ponte Vedra, Florida, a Jacksonville suburb. So many people brought food and offered help. It was so thoughtful.
None of it, though, was what Scotland wanted most.
Her sister was gone without so much as a warning that anything was wrong.
“She just … didn’t wake up one morning,” Scotland said.
An autopsy was done. Tests were run. Ultimately, it was concluded that something in Savannah’s heart had misfired as she slept. Her heart stopped and never restarted.
Scotland was devastated.
Her parents, Dallas and Cristie, were, too.
“I didn’t want to cry in front of them and make them sad,” Scotland said.
For years, Scotland dealt with lots of difficult emotions. Anger. Sadness. Shock. Distress. Even though she and Savannah argued and fought like most siblings do, Scotland adored her sister. They played softball together for several years, and even though both sisters were talented, Savannah didn’t love the sport like Scotland did.
One day when Savannah was 12, she threw a no-hitter in a rec-league game.
“And on the way home, she’s like, ‘I’m done,’” her dad remembered. “I said, ‘Well, if you’re gonna go out, might as well go out on top.’”
“She was very creative, very artsy.”
Scotland said, “She was the perfect opposite of me.”
Even though Savannah’s leanings towards art, language and history didn’t jive with being an athlete, she never stopped going to Scotland’s softball games. Savannah even went to her practices sometimes. Savannah loved being around friends and families that she’d gotten to know playing softball.
She loved being around her sister, too.
Truth be told, they were starting to hit the age where they would hang out even more. After Savannah got her car, a convertible Volkswagen Beetle, she and Scotland would drive all over their North Florida hometown.
Losing Savannah left a hole in Scotland’s life. In her parents’ lives, too.
That’s why Gajewski called and told them that he’d understand if Scotland didn’t want to leave Florida and come all the way to Oklahoma State for college. She only committed to the Cowgirls a few weeks before — softball commitments by middle schoolers were somewhat common then — and Gajewski wanted the family to know he understood that circumstances had changed.
“Hey, this may not be the best move for you guys,” Gajewski recalls saying. “You lose a daughter, and then your other daughter wants to go away to school. I just want you to understand I’m OK if she wants, if you guys want to change your minds.”
He says the Davids never hesitated.
“That’s the kind of people that she’s grown up with, and they have taught her these lessons,” Gajewski said. “That’s why Scotty is so strong.”
It’s the strength she’s drawn from time and again at OSU.
Scotland David, right in the middle photo, was only in eighth grade when her older sister died in her sleep. Savannah David wanted her little sister to be a Cowgirl. (Contributed)
‘The most successful career of anybody that we’ve had’
Scotland David suffered her first injury the first week of her first season at OSU.
Broken finger sliding into second base.
She was still used as a pinch runner by the Cowgirls in 2021, but hitting? Fielding? That wasn’t happening.
Then that summer while trying to learn how to wakeboard, she tore the meniscus in her right knee. The ligaments were shredded, requiring surgery and a six-month rehab.
Then just as she was getting back into shape and preparing for the 2022 season, she tore the meniscus in her left knee. She landed oddly during a routine warm-up drill, but the injury required surgery and another six-month rehab.
She returned to the field later that year for fall ball, but on a routine throw to third from the outfield, her right knee stuck. She felt the sickeningly familiar pop and pain.
Another meniscus tear.
“I can remember the moments that I found out about each one of her injuries,” said Shippy-Fletcher, who coached outfielders before shifting to hitters this offseason. “I remember how impactful that was to me just because you know how much that kid wants it and what she’s been through.”
As David’s injuries mounted, Gajewski wondered if she and her parents might decide that she needed to medically retire or transfer somewhere else to get a fresh start.
“And that has never been a conversation in their family’s eyes ever,” Gajewski said. “Ever.”
There have been payoffs. A year ago during a season David dealt with a lingering aggravation of one of her knee injuries, she was sent to the plate as a pinch hitter late in a March home game against Central Florida. She blasted a home run off the scoreboard in right field.
A big smile spread across David’s face as she ran the bases.
“We had kids crying they were so happy for her,” Shippy-Fletcher said.
What David might do for the Cowgirls this season remains to be seen, but she is as healthy as she’s ever been for as long as she’s ever been during her time at OSU.
“Whether she gets a lot of playing time or not — and currently, she’s in the hunt to get a lot — but whether that happens or not, this has been the most successful career of anybody that we’ve had,” Gajewski said.
“And it has nothing to do with softball.”
And everything to do with perseverance. Resilience. Strength.
Being that way hasn’t always been easy for David. She has seen the sports psychologist at OSU since her sophomore season. She has worked through difficult emotions. And even though she still thinks about her sister almost every day, she has reached a point where she doesn’t remember Savannah’s death but rather her life.
“I feel like just getting rid of the weight off my back and just remembering her for who she was and not what happened has helped me,” David said.
She remembers, too, that life can be fleeting. Embrace the good. Learn from the bad, then forget it.
“Nobody’s gonna remember if you struck out in two years,” David said. “What people are going to remember is if you were a good teammate.”
Sure sounds like Scotland David is way more than that.