Why no one in college softball is pitching better than OSU’s Lexi Kilfoyl

Why no one in college softball is pitching better than OSU’s Lexi Kilfoyl

Oklahoma State fans were chanting her name after she twice shut out Texas twice, but Lexi Kilfoyl’s name should be on the lips of college softball fans everywhere.

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

| Apr 1, 2024, 1:00pm CDT

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

Apr 1, 2024, 1:00pm CDT

STILLWATER — The chant started in the outfield party decks but soon echoed all around Cowgirl Stadium.

“Lex-i Kil-foyl! Lex-i Kil-foyl!”

That name is sure to be on the lips of many college softball fans after this past weekend.

Oklahoma State ace Lexi Kilfoyl is as hot as any pitcher in the game. She dominated No. 2 Texas not once but twice and got better against the potent Longhorn offense as the weekend went on.

“Lexi’s just showing why she’s one of the top kids in the country,” Cowgirl coach Kenny Gajewski said. “Really cool to see.”

As college softball’s regular season hits the stretch run — only five weeks remain — Kilfoyl’s performance has put her in the conversation for pitcher of the year in the Big 12 and nationally.

Kelly Maxwell at OU and Teagan Kavan at Texas will have something to say about the conference award. (Isn’t that Bedlam series always looking more and more juicy? Of course, OU at Texas this weekend looks quite spicy.) Sure, NiJaree Canady at Stanford and Maddie Penta at Auburn have gotten a lot of national headlines.

But what Kilfoyl did against the Horns should turn heads.

On Thursday in the series opener, she pitched a complete-game shutout, allowing seven hits and nary an extra-base hit. She struck out seven.

Then on Sunday, she threw another complete-game shutout. Though the Texas hitters had already seen her, studied her and prepared for her, Kilfoyl allowed only two hits, and again, none for extra bases.

Texas, which entered the series widely regarded as the team with the best shot at upending the OU dynasty, has one of the nation’s best offenses. It came to Stillwater with a .391 batting average that ranked second nationally.

Against Kilfoyl, the Horns hit .188.

“Honestly, I feel like these are the games that most people, they get nervous, their heart rate gets going,” Kilfoyl said. “But after the first game on Thursday, I remember coming in the dugout, and my heart rate was just as still as I’ve ever felt. It’s usually the opposite of that.

“I think that comes with a lot of the confidence and trusting that I put in the work.”

Now, the mighty righty hasn’t come out of nowhere. She isn’t some new phenom. She was excellent a year ago, her first at OSU after transferring from Alabama. She was an All-American, and in the postseason, she was the Cowgirls’ best arm.

But Kilfoyl has taken things to another level.

Her 0.80 earned run average ranks seventh nationally and tops in the Big 12. She’s allowing only 3.93 hits per seven innings, and opponents are hitting just .155 against her.

Among pitchers who’ve thrown at least 80 innings, that opponent’s batting average also ranks seventh nationally and first in the Big 12.

Unlike many dominant softball pitchers, Kilfoyl doesn’t have big strikeout numbers. Seventy-five this season is respectable, but Kilfoyl’s superpower is keeping the ball in the infield. With a heavy drop ball, a good rise ball and deceptive off-speed pitches, opponents struggle to hit anything hard.

So far this season, she has given up only six extra-base hits.

Six.

Kilfoyl gives lots of credit to OSU’s first-year pitching coach Carrie Eberle.

“She’s scouting the entire week, looking at their swings, looking at everything, what they chase, what they don’t,” Kilfoyl said. “So she does a tremendous amount of work ahead of time, and it kind of takes pressure off us pitchers because she does all the research for us.”

Kilfoyl and Eberle have developed a good rapport and trust, too. When Kilfoyl isn’t feeling great, she tells Eberle. 

Sometimes, that changes the Cowgirls’ plans.

“We’ve had a couple of days this year where I’ve wanted to start her,” Gajewski said of Kilfoyl, “and Carrie said, ‘Her look is not good. She came up to me and said, “Hey, I just don’t feel good.”’

“We’ve made that change instead of forcing that.”

Steady doses of Ivy Rosenberry and Kyra Aycock have helped limit Kilfoyl’s innings. She has 20 less than Canady — almost three full games.

Sitting Kilfoyl when they can has given the Cowgirls flexibility to use her in situations like this past weekend. After OSU went to Rosenberry, the likely Saturday starter, in the third inning of Friday’s game, then lost a close game, it almost became understood among the coaches that they’d come back with Kilfoyl on Saturday. 

Almost no conversation was had.

“We were going (No.) 8 the whole way,” Gajewski said.

Kilfoyl let it be known before the three-game series started that she’d throw every inning if needed.

“I’m ready to go 21,” Gajewski remembers her saying.

She didn’t pitch all 21 innings, but the 14 she did throw were impressive. 

What she did against Texas slugger Reese Atwood was a microcosm of Kilfoyl’s mastery. Now, if you aren’t familiar with Atwood, the sophomore catcher burst onto the scene this year with nine homers and 31 runs batted in during the first month of the season.

But against Kilfoyl on Saturday, Atwood seemed baffled.

First at-bat: a first-pitch pop out to second.

Second at-bat: a six-pitch strikeout that included three pitches that Atwood swung at and missed.

Third at-bat: a ground out to second that was the last out of the game.

Atwood’s final at-bat was easily her best as she fought and fouled off four pitches. But Kilfoyl fought, too, coming back from a 2-0 count to eventually get the out.

“She’s so in control,” Cowgirl catcher Caroline Wang said. “Even when she might not feel it, she looks it, and a lot of times that matters more, keeping that face.

“But obviously, she was in control this weekend.”

Late in Saturday’s game during an official review, Kilfoyl and Wang had a few moments to chat in the circle. Rather than discuss strategy or pitches or anything technical, they found themselves discussing the scene around them. A packed stadium. A buzzing crowd. A chance to make a big statement by taking two of three from the Longhorns.

“This is ultimately what we came here for,” Kilfoyl said. “We’re very lucky.”

Considering how Kilfoyl is pitching, OSU folks are likely feeling like they’re the lucky ones.

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Jenni Carlson is a columnist with the Sellout Crowd network. Follow her on Twitter at @JenniCarlson_OK. Email [email protected].

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