A bat and a ponytail. Get used to it.
For the third straight year, the Oregon women's softball team has swept through the regional round of the NCAA tournament and into the Super Regionals. However, Oregon is still looking for their first-ever win in a Super Regional, and their first trip to the College World Series since 1989. And with the 2012 Super Regional kicking off Friday night in Austin, TX, it's time for Duck fans to find and summon their inner softball junkie.
Plus, you know, there isn't any football this week.
So, college softball newbies, what do you need to know?
-College softball teams only go so far in the tournament as their ace pitcher will take them, and junior Jessica Moore is already a proven winner. Moore has been a workhorse in her second season in Eugene, starting 41 of the team's 57 games and amassing a 30-12 record, with 233 strikeouts and an ERA of 2.40. The underhand softball motion, while still taxing, is a much more natural motion than the overhand pitching motion used in baseball, and it's not uncommon to see softball pitchers, especially in the NCAA tournament, to throw more than one game in a day, running her pitch count above 200 pitches.
-Many ATQ die-hards will remember my call to arms for Oregon volleyball, with the rallying cry, "TINY SPANDEX SHORTS!" Now, softball does not provide us with such luxuries. It does, however, bring us one of the under-appreciated gems of femaledom. I am speaking of course about GIRLS IN BASEBALL PANTS. On top of that, they're wearing eye black, diving around, and high fiving and smacking each other. I like it.
-Because of the high quality of pitchers at the college level, games tend to be low scoring, especially in the tournament. One mistake could be the difference in the game. Soccer fans should love it.
To get to Oklahoma City and the Women's College World Series, the Ducks must win two against the Texas Longhorns. More specifically, the Ducks have to try and figure out how to score runs off Longhorn starter Blaire Luna. Luna has been nearly unhittable this season, posting a 21-5 record with a 2.14 ERA and an astounding 271 strikeouts in only 176 innings. That's over nine strikeouts every six innings pitched. That's real, real good. And she might be pitching her best ball right now, allowing only four runs over her last 33 innings. It'll be up to Samantha Pappas and Kaylan Howard to find a way to get on base, and hitters like Christie Nieto, who hit a grand slam to beat BYU in the regional round, and RBI leader Kailee Cuico, to drive them home.
Jessica Moore will have to deal with a potent Texas lineup that opened the season with a 23-0 win over CSU-Fullerton, and never looked back. The Longhorns averaged over six runs a game this season, and are led by RF Taylor Hoagland and her team-leading 17 home runs, and 2B Lexy Bennett, who is batting .415 with 12 homers and a team-high 55 RBI.
The road to Oklahoma City will not be an easy one. But the Ducks have found a way to beat good teams all year this season, racking up 13 wins against ranked opponents. And in the playoffs, all it takes is one big play, or one big mistake, to change the entire complexion of a game. And guess what Duck fans: you'll be able to watch! Friday night's contest is on ESPNU, with Saturday's game (and possibly games) to be televised on ESPN. So let's get excited, Duck fans!