Oregon Head Coach Melyssa Lombardi had what seemed like it could be a successful strategy going into today’s third game of the Ducks softball series against #3-ranked UCLA. Lombardi sent Stevie Hansen (12-4) out to the circle to start the game, believing that if Hansen could get a few solid and preferably scoreless innings under her belt, the Ducks could ride her success, or if she got in trouble, Lombardi could bring in Morgan Scott (5-2) in relief. Scott, of course, had pitched a complete game, 2-hit shutout of UCLA on Friday evening. The strategy backfired, however, as Hansen gave up 3 hits and a walk along with 2 runs in the top of the first inning and Lombardi had to bring Scott in for the top of the 2nd inning. While Scott pitched 5 strong innings against the Bruins, the 7th proved her undoing as UCLA broke the game open with 2 home runs and scored 4 times to win 6 - 2. Oregon has now lost 3 Pac-12 series in a row after coming into the Sunday matchup tied 1 - 1.
Hansen’s early struggles put the Ducks in a hole out of which they managed to dig themselves. Oregon cut the UCLA lead to 2 - 1 in the bottom of the second, as KK Humphreys led off with a triple, and Vallery Wong brought her home with a single up the middle.
The rest of the inning would foreshadow what would ultimately cost Oregon the game and the series. With a runner on and no outs, Oregon had three very unthreatening at-bats - two popups and a fly ball to center field that were easy defensive plays for the Bruins. Oregon would then go on to tie the game in their half of the third on a solo home run to left by Allee Bunker, a line drive shot that appeared to still be rising when it hit the netting above the left field fence.
Over the next 3 innings neither team could score, and Scott was masterful, allowing only 1 hit in each inning. Meanwhile, Oregon repeatedly failed to deliver the hit that would break the game open in their favor. The Ducks loaded the bases with 2 outs in the 4th on two hit batters and a throwing error, but a flyout to center field ended that threat. In the 5th, Oregon had two on with just one out but again had a flyout and a strikeout to come away with nothing.
In the 6th, Tehya Bird beat out a well-placed leadoff bunt and Kyla Morris was sent in to pinch run. Trying to manufacture a go-ahead run, Oregon laid down a very poor sacrifice bunt that allowed Morris to be thrown out at second base. After yet another popup, Terra McGowan drew a walk, giving Oregon runners on first and second with 2 outs. Another harmless pop fly to the shortstop left those two runners stranded as well.
Scott’s mastery of the Bruins came to an unfortunate end in the top of the 7th, as the Bruins scored 4 times. Nevertheless, Scott’s 12 innings of scoreless pitching over the weekend was an impressive performance against one of the best-hitting clubs in the country. Oregon’s downfall was their inability to deliver the key hit at the key moment. The Ducks stranded 21 runners on base over the final two games, including 10 on Sunday. Despite UCLA’s outstanding pitching staff, which includes former Oregon roster placeholder Brooke Yanez who was chased by the Ducks after Bunker’s game-tying home run in the third, the Ducks generated a large number of baserunners. Oregon scored 9 runs in the 3-game series, almost twice as many as they scored against the Bruins in 2022 and could easily have scored many more.
Scott took the mostly-undeserved loss for Oregon. Bunker and Humphreys were each 2 - 4, Bird was 1 - 2 and Katelyn Howard was 1 - 1 as the Designated Player.
The good news for the Ducks (20-10) is they’ve played the toughest teams they will face in Conference play and will be looking to improve on their 3 - 6 Conference record against Oregon State (10-18-1, 1-7-1) next weekend. Oregon will not face another team that is currently ranked until potential Pac-12 Tournament opponents.