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Oklahoma State's Karli Petty (14) leaps onto home plate after hitting a three-run home run during Thursday's College World Series game against Arizona.

OKLAHOMA CITY – Karli Petty didn’t waste her third chance.

In the sixth inning against Arizona, Oklahoma State softball coach Kenny Gajewski considered having someone pinch hit for Petty. She struck out swinging in the second inning and ended the fourth with a pop fly to Wildcat shortstop Sophia Carroll, so why not see if a different person could spark OSU’s offense?

The idea entered Gajewski’s mind, but he rejected it. Petty, the junior second baseman from Moore, had to stay.

“She just needs another at-bat,” Gajewski said. “And wow, it was big.”

The Cowgirls pushed past Arizona, 4-2, in their Women’s College World Series opener Thursday night, and Petty’s third at-bat was the game-changer.

With a 2-2 count and no outs, she sent the softball flying over the center-field wall and into a fan’s glove, wiping the Wildcats’ lead. The three-RBI home run allowed seventh-seeded OSU (47-12) to advance into the winner’s bracket, securing a Friday break before meeting No. 14 Florida at 6 p.m. Saturday.

Petty said it wasn’t her first homer at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium. As a key member of two state champion squads at Southmoore High, she competed at the home of the Women’s College World Series before she traded her SaberCats jersey for a Cowgirls uniform.

She delivers for her teams. Friday night, it happened on the biggest stage of college softball.

“It’s really familiar, and it’s just even better to come back with over 12,000 fans,” Petty said. “It’s really exciting to see how much this place has grown from when I was little growing up.”

After Petty’s no-doubter to center field, OSU starting pitcher Kelly Maxwell needed only three outs to secure a win. In the top of the seventh, Maxwell gave up a leadoff single but quickly recovered to fan three consecutive batters, preventing a Wildcat comeback.

Maxwell, a redshirt junior from Friendswood, Texas, threw 14 strikeouts and walked two while allowing two runs on five hits. Recently, Maxwell has depended on her changeup, but she said it wasn’t working as well against the Wildcats. Instead, her rise ball kept them at bay.

After watching Maxwell pitch against Florida State in the 2021 WCWS, Gajewski noticed a bolder approach from the Cowgirl ace as she faced Arizona (38-21).

“She couldn’t do that last year,” Gajewski said. “I turned to one of our coaches during the game, about fourth or fifth (inning), and I just said, ‘Man, Kelly looks different here this year.'"

Despite Maxwell’s command in the circle, the Cowgirls initially struggled to take the lead. Through the first three innings, OSU had only one hit and no runs.

Third baseman Sydney Pennington put the Cowgirls up, 1-0, with an RBI single in the fourth inning, but Arizona responded in the fifth. Maxwell’s one blemish was surrendering Sharlize Palacios’ two-RBI home run, which gave the Wildcats a 2-1 advantage.

The Cowgirls had a chance to reclaim momentum in the bottom of the fifth, but they left the bases loaded.

Then Petty stepped up to bat in the sixth.

Designated player Miranda Elish, who advanced to third base on a single and an error after drawing a leadoff walk, offered encouragement to Petty.

“I looked at her, and I told her that she was made for this,” Elish said. “I had a little pick on the pitcher, and I just told her what I was seeing, just to give her any edge.”

Soon, Elish was running home from third base as Petty drilled the ball out of the park. The home run also scored Pennington from second, and the Cowgirls swarmed Petty in celebration after she rounded the bases. 

“I probably screamed in her face,” Elish said. “But I think everyone was yelling. I was super pumped-up.”

Whether it’s quiet support or enthusiastic yelling, Petty said encouragement from teammates drives her in big moments. In the WCWS, it inspired her to make the most of one more opportunity at the plate.

“Even though I might not have a good at-bat the first time, just knowing that they had my back no matter what,” Petty said. “...Just having that support and confidence in them just helps me relax and do my best.”

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