EUGENE, Or - Despite entering the postseason as the favorite to win the Women’s College World Series, the Oregon Duck Softball team was in a bad spot. After losing the first game of the super regional at Jane Sanders Stadium in Eugene, the Ducks were one game away from ending their season with yet another disappointing playoff run.
Losing a close game to a talented team like Kentucky can easily be forgiven, however, it was the uncharacteristic way in which they lost that had Duck fans nervous. All season long, the Ducks hadn’t lost a game after scoring four runs, but after the Wildcat’s Martens homered to right center - giving Kentucky a 3-0 lead in the first - Oregon was not able to match the visiting teams firepower.
The game would end 6-9, meaning Oregon’s amazing season would come to an unceremonious ending with a loss in game two. Megan Kleist had a poor showing - a phrase Duck fans are not used to hearing. Kleist allowed six hits in 4.2 innings played and Oregon’s six runs were too-little-too-late.
Fortunately for Oregon, when one of their ace pitchers has an off night, another is waiting in the bullpen. Miranda Elish took to the circle with everything on the line, and in the end, she proved that she’s ready for the World Series.
Elish flirted with another no-no, only allowing two hits in Oregon’s 6 - 1 victory in game two of the super regionals, and the hype for Lauren Burke continues to grow; the freshman from Eugene started off the scoring at the top of the fourth by batting in DJ Sanders, Shannon Rhodes and Haley Cruse off of a single up the middle and aided by a throwing error. Mia Camuso singled in Burke in the same inning, giving the Ducks a 4 - 0 lead.
The 6 - 1 win over Kentucky tied the series, and more importantly, shifted the momentum back in Oregon’s favor. The loss to the Wildcats was a gut punch to Mike White and his team, but in game three, the frenzied fans at Jane Sanders Stadium were determined to help make this a blowout - and blowout it was.
The Ducks run-ruled the WIldcats, 11-1, and won the game in the fifth inning. The second inning proved especially eventful for the home-team: Shannon Rhodes scored first on a homer, Jenna Lilley singled in Lauren Burke, DJ Sanders hit a grandslam, and then Gwen Svekis reached home plate after Shannon Rhodes returned to the batting order and singled to center field.
Although the team as a whole played much tighter in the final two game of the series, much of the credit should go to Miranda Elish. After Kleist’s uncharacteristically shaky start, Elish’s season-saving performance in game two led coach White to the decision to start her in game three - less than 24 hours after pitching her two-hit complete game. Luckily, it only took five innings for Elish to punch Oregon’s ticket to the Women’s College World Series.
This was the final game at Jane Sanders Stadium for seniors DJ Sanders, Gwen Svekis, Lauren Lindvall, and Jenna Lilley. The Eugene fans came out in force to show their support - selling out all six games of the Regionals and Super Regionals.
If Oregon hopes to compete in the Finals, then they’ll have to get past their bracket, which includes Oklahoma, Washington, and Arizona State. Earlier this year, the Ducks swept the huskies in Seattle and blanked Oklahoma, 5-0, when they visited Eugene. Arizona State, on the other hand, defeated Oregon once in a three-game series and are the only team guaranteed to face the Ducks in the World Series.
Is this the season the Ducks win their first Softball Championship? We’ll find out, starting this Thursday at 9 AM on ESPN against the Arizona State Sun Devils.