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OSU softball: Cowgirls found an undiscovered treasure in Michaela Richbourg

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Oklahoma State's Michaela Richbourg (32) from Broken Bow was a big find for Cowgirls' softball. [Nate Billings/The Oklahoman]
Oklahoma State's Michaela Richbourg (32) from Broken Bow was a big find for Cowgirls' softball. [Nate Billings/The Oklahoman]

STILLWATER — Oklahoma State softball coach Kenny Gajewski was on his way toward the parking lot of USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium, where he had spent the day watching high school players who had committed to play for the Cowgirls.

Walking toward the gate, he heard the unmistakable ping of bat on ball that only a select group of hitters can generate.

He turned to look, and saw a ball flying well over the fence installed for high school tournaments, bouncing once and hitting the men’s slowpitch fence 300 feet from home plate.

Gajewski flipped through his Oklahoma state tournament program for the Broken Bow page. He found the jersey number and saw a name he vaguely recognized: Michaela Richbourg.

On Thursday evening, 13th-seeded OSU will open its NCAA Regional against BYU at Cowgirl Stadium, with Richbourg batting in the middle of the order and playing first base or outfield.

If not for the perfect coincidence of her home run — and a few other key occurrences — Richbourg probably would be spending this week preparing for summer basketball workouts at a Division II school somewhere.

Instead, she’s one of the young players helping Gajewski build a program with Women’s College World Series goals.

The email

Patrick Williams is good friends with Gajewski — now.

In the fall of 2016, the two had never met. Williams was an assistant softball coach at Broken Bow High School in the southeastern tip of Oklahoma.

He had what he thought was an undiscovered star in Richbourg, who was being recruited by some lower-level basketball programs, but not really getting attention for softball.

Broken Bow isn’t along a natural path for college recruiters looking for an athlete.

“We’re three hours from anything,” Williams said. “It’s not impossible, but it’s almost impossible to get much attention down here. It’s a hardship on families from here to get involved in travel ball. It’s just tough.”

After a conversation with an umpire who watched Richbourg play, Williams decided to try to stir up some interest in his star player.

“I had thought about it all day. It was about 1 o’clock in the morning, and I decided I was gonna send out an email,” Williams said. “The crazy thing is, I sent one email to one coach, and it happened to be Kenny.”

He knew it was the type of email Gajewski probably received from every proud parent with big dreams for their little girl.

Gajewski asked for Richbourg’s schedule for travel ball, which is a more fertile avenue for recruiting.

The response came back that she didn’t play travel ball.

“Oh, here we go,” Gajewski said. “It’s one of those.”

He didn’t think much more about the email, but he recognized the name after the home run.

Gajewski stayed at the game after that homer, and saw Richbourg hit another, plus a double, to help Broken Bow advance to the next round.

The play

Gajewski returned to Hall of Fame Stadium the following day to see Broken Bow play again.

Richbourg hit yet another home run, and Gajewski was becoming sold on her talent.

But it wasn’t her bat — or her glove, or her arm — that convinced the coach that he needed the unknown kid from Broken Bow in Cowgirl orange.

Richbourg made an outstanding defensive play at shortstop, then threw the ball over the first baseman’s head. The error allowed Newcastle to score what turned out to be the winning run.

“She walked to the pitcher,” Gajewski said. “About halfway, she said, ‘Hey, that’s my fault. I got you.’

“What happened in that play is what made me say, that’s a kid I think I want. Those kids don’t come around a lot. Most kids aren’t accountable. She was accountable.”

A couple days later, she was in Stillwater visiting the campus. Not long after, she was committed.

Now in the middle of a breakout sophomore season, she’s batting .304 with 13 home runs, second-most on the team.

“She’s a kid who about slipped through the cracks, and was probably fixing to go play basketball somewhere,” Williams said.

‘Let’s go Cupcake!’

If it gets quiet enough before Richbourg comes to bat sometime during this week’s NCAA regional, you might hear a tiny voice scream.

“Let’s go Cupcake!” she’ll say.

That’s Mylee Williams, Patrick’s 10-year-old daughter and Richbourg’s biggest fan.

Mylee came up with the Cupcake nickname years ago, and Patrick wondered why.

It a sports setting, cupcake isn’t typically an endearing term — particularly in this state, thanks to Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant.

So Patrick finally decided to ask his daughter why she always called Richbourg by that nickname.

“Because she’s as cute as a cupcake,” Mylee told her father, who now finds himself hollering the nickname on occasion. Same for his wife.

“I think I’ve heard Kenny yelling it from the dugout a couple times,” Patrick said with a laugh.

It’s a good thing Mylee offered the explanation she did. The other definition doesn’t fit Richbourg at all.

She’s tough, because she knows she has to be.

“I had a chip on my shoulder coming from a small town,” she said. “I’m not scared to be out there with anyone.

“You’ve got to act like you’re the best and you’ve got to be ready to go.”

NCAA softball regional at OSU

When: Thursday-Saturday

Where: Cowgirl Stadium, Stillwater

Schedule

Thursday

Game 1: Tulsa vs. Arkansas, 5 p.m.

Game 2: OSU vs. BYU, 7:30 p.m.

Friday

Game 3: Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2, noon (ESPN2)

Game 4: Loser Game 1 vs. Loser Game 2, 2:30 p.m.

Game 5: Loser Game 3 vs. Winner Game 4, 5 p.m.

Saturday

Game 6: Winner Game 3 vs. Winner Game 5, 3 p.m.

Game 7: If necessary, 5:30 p.m.

Note: All games broadcast on ESPN3 unless noted.

Related Photos
<strong>OSU's Michaela Richbourg (32) singles in the sixth inning against Texasin the Big 12 softball tournament on Friday. [Nate Billings/The Oklahoman]</strong>

OSU's Michaela Richbourg (32) singles in the sixth inning against Texasin the Big 12 softball tournament on Friday. [Nate Billings/The Oklahoman]

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-221390f0952b06a82be59ae221113b50.jpg" alt="Photo - OSU's Michaela Richbourg (32) singles in the sixth inning against Texasin the Big 12 softball tournament on Friday. [Nate Billings/The Oklahoman] " title=" OSU's Michaela Richbourg (32) singles in the sixth inning against Texasin the Big 12 softball tournament on Friday. [Nate Billings/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> OSU's Michaela Richbourg (32) singles in the sixth inning against Texasin the Big 12 softball tournament on Friday. [Nate Billings/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-6c9dd8fa58b0bb6ff2fb0bbddbe61a3f.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma State's Michaela Richbourg (32) from Broken Bow was a big find for Cowgirls' softball. [Nate Billings/The Oklahoman] " title=" Oklahoma State's Michaela Richbourg (32) from Broken Bow was a big find for Cowgirls' softball. [Nate Billings/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> Oklahoma State's Michaela Richbourg (32) from Broken Bow was a big find for Cowgirls' softball. [Nate Billings/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure>
Scott Wright

A lifelong resident of the Oklahoma City metro area, Scott Wright has been on The Oklahoman staff since 2005, covering a little bit of everything on the state's sports scene. He has been a beat writer for football and basketball at Oklahoma and... Read more ›

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