‘Crush ‘em’: Why OU pitcher Kelly Maxwell has been dominant so far

‘Crush ‘em’: Why OU pitcher Kelly Maxwell has been dominant so far

The college softball world is watching after her transfer from OSU to OU, but so far, she’s done nothing but dominate.

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

| Feb 22, 2024, 10:00am CST

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

Feb 22, 2024, 10:00am CST

NORMAN — Kelly Maxwell posted a highlight reel on Instagram the other day.

The video: her pitching and batters whiffing.

The soundtrack: Lil Uzi Vert’s “Crush ‘Em.”

In case you aren’t a Lil Uzi Vert aficionado, the snippet used was basically the rapper saying, “Crush ‘em, crush ‘em” over and over again. It wasn’t complicated — and yet, it was fitting for how Maxwell has performed so far this season.

The OU pitcher has dominated despite being perhaps the most-watched player in college softball. After leaving Bedlam rival Oklahoma State and joining the three-time defending national champion Sooners, the entire sport is curious to see how she does. How will she handle expectations? The pressure? The attention?

The answer so far?

She’s crushed it.

Heading into this weekend’s games at the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic, Maxwell has a 3-0 record and one save to go along with a 0.50 ERA. Most impressive, she’s allowed only five hits for an opponent batting average of .109.

“She was cool and calm and money,” Patty Gasso said of Maxwell’s performance on the season’s opening weekend, though the Sooner coach could’ve easily been talking about Maxwell’s total body of work.

As good as she was in Stillwater, Maxwell seems to have cranked it up a notch in Norman.

Gasso gives a lot of credit to the relationship already forged between Maxwell and OU pitching coach Jen Rocha.

“Jen and Kelly, they kind of started from ground zero,” Gasso said. “Kelly hadn’t really looked at numbers, she didn’t really look at a lot of video. There was a lot of exploring, a lot of learning.”

Rocha said it started with her becoming familiar with what Maxwell does in the circle. While the Sooner coaches knew her from an opponent standpoint, having scouted her throughout her time as a Cowgirl, Rocha wanted to dig deeper. So in Maxwell’s early days on campus, together they watched a lot of video of Maxwell.

Rocha asked for feedback.

“Tell me what feels right,” she asked Maxwell. “Tell me what your challenges are.”

But Rocha also told Maxwell what she saw, and what the coach saw was impressive. The best college pitchers tunnel their pitches, making the ball look like it’s coming in the same way but then having it do different things as it nears the plate. Rocha saw Maxwell doing that on multiple planes.

“She just has so much in her repertoire that it makes it difficult for a hitter to identify,” Rocha said.

Pairing what she saw of Maxwell on video with the pitcher’s stats from past seasons only solidified how highly Rocha thought of her.

“She can throw the ball low. She can throw the ball high,” Rocha said. “She can change speeds down low. She can change speeds up high. She really does have just a tool box that is really good. 

“So it’s just .. trying to feed her that confidence. ‘You can use it all. Let’s just figure out how to do it right or maybe better.’”

Maxwell said, “We work a lot on … your mental state and your tempo. Just being able to keep that under control at times so that when you do fall out of it, you can get back into it. Just being aware of your own body.”

Maxwell and Rocha have also taken deep dives on opposing hitters, something Maxwell said she did rarely before. That understanding has made her more effective, both with her mechanics and her mentality.

“Having this new knowledge is really elevating my games,” she said.

Rocha saw it two weekends ago during the Puerto Vallarta College Challenge. 

In OU’s game against Washington, the Sooners tied the game and got some momentum in the top half of the sixth inning. But the Huskies quickly threatened in the bottom of the inning, putting runners on the corners with only one out.

That’s when OU called on Maxwell.

Before she entered the game, Rocha watched in the dugout as Maxwell read over her notes on Washington hitters. Then Rocha looked at Maxwell’s face.

“There was the look,” Rocha said “Every pitcher has a look. You can kind of see when they’re feeling in the zone and when they’re doing their thing. … When she went into the game, there was just something different that I hadn’t seen from her in a game.

“And I was excited.”

Maxwell got out of the sixth-inning jam with a couple of ground balls, then worked out of another two-on, one-out situation in the seventh. In extra innings and OU leading by one, Maxwell had a three-up, three-down inning to win the game.

“She closed the door,” Rocha said. “She did her thing. She just did what Kelly Maxwell does.

“She definitely had a flow about her that was really, really fun to watch.”

Fun for Rocha and the Sooners.

Not so fun for opponents.

“Kelly has learned a lot from Jen Rocha,” Gasso said. “It’s really starting to stick, and it’s really starting to show in her pitches.”

Rocha said, “Ultimately, I’m just trying to not mess her up.”

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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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