STILLWATER, Okla. — Oklahoma State needed an epic performance from one of the top pitchers in the country to end North Texas’ first appearance in an NCAA regional on Sunday.
All-American Kelly Maxwell struck out 15 and threw a complete game shutout to lead OSU to a 2-0 win in the final of the Stillwater Regional.
The Mean Green were held to two hits by Maxwell, who was on a day’s rest after pitching on Friday.
UNT starter Ashley Peters pitched three shutout innings before making way for Saturday’s standout Skylar Savage.
UNT (37-16) made history by making the regional round and winning two games. While the Mean Green fell, the young squad got its first taste of postseason play.
“Experience is the best teacher more than anything and we have a young team,” coach Rodney DeLong said. “It was pretty vital for us to get into this postseason and make it to the finals and get to play a great game.”
Of 24 players on the team, two were seniors and played their last games for UNT on Sunday. Tayla Evans, a mainstay in the Mean Green lineup in the last four seasons, concluded her career at UNT in the loss.
As the oldest player on the team, the senior third baseman took on a new role for UNT’s history-making squad.
“Tayla is the oldest kid on our team and kind of took them all under her wing,” DeLong said. “She decided that she was going to be a leader, and it was actually an uncomfortable position for her coming into the year.”
“We tried to educate her through this process and she took it and ran with it.”
UNT’s underclassmen bought into Evans’ new role as she became the leader of a team built around a core of sophomores, including Molly Rainey.
“[Evans] has really showed us how to do things [and] how to go about softball in a good way,” Rainey said. “She’s a great leader and a great person. It’s so much easier to buy into senior leadership and buy into the program.”
UNT came into Sunday needing to win twice against the Big 12 conference tournament champions, a tall task with Maxwell (18-4) in the circle.
Peters (20-7) pitched toe-to-toe with Maxwell for the first three innings, when neither allowed a run.
After setting down the side in order in the third, Peters was relieved by Savage. DeLong said that he wanted to give the Cowgirls a “different look.”
Savage set down the Cowgirls in order after hitting Katelynn Carwile with a pitch to lead off the inning.
The Mean Green had their best scoring chance of the game in the bottom of the fourth. Rainey doubled to lead off the inning. Maxwell rebounded by striking out Kalei Christensen and inducing a flyball from Evans that pushed Rainey to third.
Maxwell struck out Saleen Donohoe swinging to end the opportunity and followed up by striking out all three of UNT’s batters in the fifth.
UNT’s lineup swung freely against the lefty.
“Maxwell is phenomenal — her record, how she holds up against teams,” Christensen said. “We came in there swinging, and that’s the only way we could have thought about it.
“Everyone, all nine kids in the lineup, were going out there taking hacks.”
Miranda Elish broke the scoreless tie with a home run in the sixth off Savage.
The Mean Green headed into the bottom half of the inning down for the first time at 1-0.
Maxwell set down North Texas’ lineup in order for a fourth time on the day. She added her 12th strikeout to extinguish the Mean Green in the sixth.
The Cowgirls added a second run on an error at short by Cierra Simon in the top of the seventh.
Down to its final chance, UNT continued to swing and whiff at Maxwell’s pitches, striking out in order to conclude the 15-strikeout performance from the southpaw.
The loss ended another landmark season in a three-year run that has seen the Mean Green win the Conference USA regular season championship in 2019 and 2021 and the C-USA tournament this year when they also advanced to the regional final.
With its young core and new pedigree, UNT’s expectation from players and coaches is that the team will continue to improve going forward.
“Our group is young, they’re tough,” DeLong said. “This experience was great for us. I’m really excited for this group — what we’ve got [coming back] and what we’ve got joining our program next year, we’re only going to get better.”
“I expect to be back here next year with another shot.”