Kenny Gajewski: Kelly Maxwell left for OU, but OSU’s best pitcher remains

Kenny Gajewski: Kelly Maxwell left for OU, but OSU’s best pitcher remains

The Oklahoma State coach insists Lexi Kilfoyl was his ace down the stretch, and she returns to anchor a new Cowboy pitching approach.

Sam Hutchens

By Sam Hutchens

| Feb 6, 2024, 12:30pm CST

Sam Hutchens

By Sam Hutchens

Feb 6, 2024, 12:30pm CST

(Sam and Ben Hutchens’ free OSU newsletter hits inboxes every week. Subscribe here for the latest)

STILLWATER— Oklahoma State has to replace Kelly Maxwell, but coach Kenny Gajewski insists the Cowgirls don’t have to replace their best pitcher. 

“Down the stretch last year [Kilfoyl] was the ace,” Gajewski said Monday at media day for the Cowgirls, who open their season Thursday at Cal State Northridge. “I mean, she pitched incredible the whole year but I could probably be second-guessed — and it would be very worthy of being second-guessed — why we didn’t throw her more.”

Staff ace is a distinction Maxwell (1.91 ERA over 142.2 innings) and Lexi Kilfoyl (1.70 ERA over 139.2 innings) performed well enough to earn last season. The Women’s College World Series edge goes to Kilfoyl, who gave up no earned runs in 8.2 innings to Maxwell’s four earned runs in 4.1 innings.

When he rewatches OSU’s game, Gajewski said he feels dumb for not pitching Kilfoyl more.

“You get caught up on what people have done in the past instead of what is happening right underneath your feet,” Gajewski said.

Maxwell’s transfer to OU following the offseason retirement of OSU pitching coach John Bargfeldt leaves Kilfoyl as the Cowgirls’ most accomplished pitcher.

Gajewski said he had been planning to remake his team’s pitching approach. With or without Maxwell, he said the idea was to distribute innings pitched more evenly. Data supported the change, he said.

“We’re gonna be more of a staff,” Gajewski said. “Whether we had Kelly back or not, we were going to be a staff.”

Kilfoyl transferred to OSU in 2022 after pitching behind Montana Fouts at Alabama for three years.

“I think what they have going on with all the data stuff is really exciting because it’s better for us and we’re going to maybe be throwing less innings and we’ll be able to recover faster,” Kilfoyl said.

The staff-wide emphasis isn’t a novel concept. Gajewski admires how Florida State, the Women’s College World Series runner-up last year, has divided its innings. The Seminoles had five players pitch more than 40 innings last year, but just one — star fifth-year Kathryn Sandercock — threw more than 80 innings.

In comparison, only Kyra Aycock joined Kilfoyl and Maxwell as pitchers to throw more than 40 innings for OSU last season.

Aycock, who had a 2.51 ERA last year over 95 innings, will figure into OSU’s rotation. Senior Ivy Rosenberry and freshman Katie Kutz, the two-time Virginia Gatorade Player of the Year, are also positioned to help carry the load.

The Cowgirls may get more creative managing pitching over a weekend series. One example Gajewski offered was Kilfoyl potentially pitching in all three games of a series during high-leverage late innings while not starting in any of them. 

Kilfoyl said she would rather come into a game than start one.

I feel I can help the most in those high-level situations,” Kilfoyl said. “I try to share my experiences with those girls so when the time comes, they know what to expect. If they want me to be a shoulder to cry on, or just someone to come to for advice, I want to be that for any and all of them.” 

“This game is going to a staff,” Gajewski said. “I’ve been paying close attention to Florida State. I’m a big fan of (FSU coach) Lonni (Alameda), what she has done and her staff.”

New pitching coach Carrie Eberle was OSU’s ace in 2021 when she pitched in 190.1 innings. Gajewski said she is committed to spreading innings across multiple players, and that was part of why she was hired.

“There’s going to be some moments where we make really good decisions and they don’t work, and there’s gonna be times where we make really good ones and they do work,” Gajewski said. “So let’s just stay true to what we want to do.”

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Sam Hutchens covers Oklahoma State sport for Sellout Crowd. He interned for The Stillwater News Press in 2021 and The Guthrie News Leader in 2022, where he won a first-place OPA award for in-depth reporting. He has also covered sports in southwest Oklahoma for The Lawton Constitution. He strives to tell you the OSU sports stories that you want to tell your friends about. You can email him at [email protected] and connect on Twitter (X) @Sam_Hutchens_

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