Teammates began congratulating Kelsey Oh and she didn’t know why.
The top of the first inning had just ended in a midweek game at Beckham Field. Oh, South Carolina’s starting pitcher that early April evening, retired the Georgia Southern side in order. It was business as usual, she thought.
Until she got back to the dugout.
“People were hugging me,” Oh said, “and I was like, ‘Why is everyone doing this?’”
Oh failed to quickly recognize the history associated with what she had just accomplished. She didn’t just retire three consecutive Eagles, she struck them all out – on a total of nine pitches.
USC coach Beverly Smith, who’s been in this business since the mid-1990s, had never seen such a feat. She didn’t know it had its own name, either.
“It’s called an ‘Immaculate Inning,’” Smith said. “I had never been part of an ‘Immaculate Inning’ before. So that was something new, but impressive.”
The sequence of events – Oh’s Ks followed by her surprised reaction – perhaps best sums up one of the best stories going for the 13th-ranked Gamecocks.
USC (38-11, 11-7 SEC) is inching closer to a host and No. 1 seed in an NCAA regional for the first time since 2002. Oh, who’s 11-3 with a 1.59 ERA, is inching closer to becoming the first national freshman of the year in program history.
Oh’s locked-in mentality gives Carolina more than just a rookie in the circle, Smith said.
“Because she’s so focused all the time,” Smith said, “she probably had no idea of the big picture of that (Immaculate Inning). That’s what makes her so good.
“The game doesn’t know how old you are. She just comes out and she’s so focused on her performance and getting outs for the defense, I think she just keeps it really simple. Her highs aren’t too high, and her lows aren’t too low. And I think that makes a softball player successful.”
Oh on April 19 was named a top-25 candidate for the Schutt Sports/NFCA Division 1 Freshman of the Year. That list will be trimmed to 10 on May 10, to three on May 23, and the winner will be announced May 29 at the Women’s College World Series.
If the Gamecocks are still playing by the end of the next month, Oh will likely be a big reason why. The New Jersey native – and one-time Boston College commitment – chose USC over Michigan and Minnesota.
“I decided to go to the warmer school,” she said with a grin.
Oh, who comes from Korean (father), Italian and German (mother) roots, had no connection to South Carolina other than Victoria Galvan. Galvan, a freshman utility player, played on the same Jersey club team as Oh and was committed to the Gamecocks before her.
“She played on a top level club team, and I would go watch that team play a lot because they always have great players,” Smith said. “And I just remember watching her pitch and thinking, ‘Who is this kid?’ and ‘How have I not seen her to this point?’
“As soon as I started watching her, I was asking the coach about her and finding out. And, of course, once you start researching Kelsey Oh, she checked all the boxes for us.”
Oh is one of 18 New Jersey pitchers to compile 1,000 career strikeouts. She was twice named the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year.
Such talent has traveled south, allowing Smith and USC excited for the end of this season and beyond.
“The ceiling’s high because she’s a player that’s never good enough, which I love about her,” Smith said. “She’s going to be a player that’s going to want to constantly grow and stretch her game.”
Carolina hosts Mississippi State (34-15, 6-12) this weekend.