How Kelly Maxwell Became A Reliable Arm For Oklahoma State
For Oklahoma State, one of the most significant contributions to its success in 2021 was pitcher Kelly Maxwell. The left-hander had a breakout season last spring, going 15-5 with 147 strikeouts, a 1.81 ERA and four saves.
One of the biggest things that led to her success was when Oklahoma State head coach Kenny Gajewski approached her about redshirting during her freshman season. Maxwell said that she was getting hit hard in practice during that fall and was tired from pitching for her high school team. She weighed the pros and cons of the decision, but it ultimately benefitted her in the long run as she got stronger and changed her pitching style, going from a rocker motion to coming right out of her glove, which helped her riseball.
"It really helped me in the long run just because I think it prepared me, and it made me mature as a pitcher," Maxwell said. "It gave me time, rather than to grow up really fast like some of these freshmen have to do coming in here that don't get a chance to redshirt."
Another factor that led to Maxwell's success was the hiring of former Tulsa head coach John Bargfeldt. She mentioned that his knowledge about pitching has had a tremendous impact on her career.
"He's very low-key mellow," Maxwell said. "You're not ever going to see him like being really high or really low and get down or angry at you. He's just like a constant all the time. (With) him being so knowledgeable about pitching and the game, it's really nice. He knows a lot about spin and speed, and then also just how to call a game, and pitching with my strengths rather than hitters' weaknesses, but also knowing what I do best and going at it with what I'm good at."
Last season, Maxwell was part of an outstanding pitching staff with Carrie Eberle that helped the Cowgirls win 48 games, which tied for the third-most in program history. Playing alongside Eberle, Maxwell learned a lot.
"If she's going to pitch game one, and I'm pitching game two, she's going to get that win for game one, so I should have her back, too," Maxwell said. "Being able to work with her, and just not letting down this program and what we've done here, (was great)."
She attributes that, along with the two having completely different pitching styles, to why she had the success she had last season.
"I think a lot of my success would have to come off of Carrie Eberle, too," she said. "I think that our dynamic and our duo together, we had two completely different looks. She was a down-ball pitcher and she threw pretty hard, and I am an up-ball pitcher and I spin the ball pretty well."
After helping to lead the Cowgirls to the NCAA Tournament, Maxwell made her NCAA Regional debut and gave up two hits in 4.2 innings in a victory over Campbell. Oklahoma State then defeated Mississippi State to advance to Super Regionals against Big 12-rival Texas. Maxwell made her WCWS debut in relief of Eberle against James Madison. Whether she's starting or coming in to close a game, her mindset is to compete.
While Oklahoma State lost Eberle to graduation last season, it gained an experienced pitcher in graduate student Miranda Elish, who transferred from Texas. Despite the change to the pitching rotation, Maxwell said Elish is similar to Eberle's pitching style. In addition to Elish, the team also added graduate student Morgan Day, who transferred from Illinois State.
Heading into the 2022 season, Maxwell has expanded her role and focused on helping the younger players grow in hopes of developing them as quickly as she was able to last year.
"This year, I've kind of taken on a new role of leading the freshmen," she said. "(I've helped) them mature and taught them how I was able to mature so fast and have success at this level. I've been working closely with them."
As the Cowgirls gear up for another postseason run, Maxwell will play a key role in helping Oklahoma State return to the WCWS in 2022, and help them attempt to achieve their ultimate goal: a national championship.