A year ago, Oregon’s pitching staff was in flux. The Ducks were coming off a season in which their likely #1 pitcher - Brooke Yanez - sat out the entire season and ultimately transferred to UCLA, and the team had relied on a Freshman - Stevie Hansen - to take up the slack. Makenna Kliethermes left in the portal and Jordan Dail graduated. Hansen, Raegen Breedlove and Allison Benning were the returners. Showing two can play the portal game, Oregon Coach Melyssa Lombardi reached out and brought UNC-Greensboro Ace Morgan Scott to Eugene. In an early 2022 road game against Greensboro Scott had given Oregon all it could handle, holding the Ducks to 3 runs over 7 innings in a game that ultimately went to extra innings. Oregon finally got to Scott in the top of the 10th and went on to win 12 - 4.
Coming into the 2024 season, Oregon’s pitching watchword is “stability.” Although a “senior” this past season (a designation that doesn’t mean what it used to, primarily due to the “free” Covid year all college athletes received for 2020), Scott is expected to return along with Hansen and Breedlove. Benning has transferred to North Florida. Those three players are likely to get most of the work in the circle next year barring a surprise portal addition or subtraction.
Morgan Scott (13 - 7) proved to be the key addition to the Oregon pitching staff for 2023. Surprisingly, she had the third-lowest ERA on the staff at 2.83 but became the “go-to” pitcher as the Pac-12 season progressed. Scott pitched in 11 consecutive games over Oregon’s last 4 Conference series including 5 starts and 3 games in which she was the first reliever off the bench. Scott was a definite improvement over the player she replaced - Makenna Kliethermes.
With a season facing high-level competition - particularly in Conference - Scott is likely to continue her excellent 2023 performance quality next season.
Stevie Hansen (20 - 7) had the confidence of the Coaching staff and received the bulk of the work early in the season. This also gave Scott a chance to earn the trust of Lombardi to give the Ducks two quality starters going into the Conference season. Hansen did build on her 2022 season effort, recording a team-best ERA of 2.63 as well as winning 7 more games than in 2022. Hansen had 6 complete games in 2023, up from 5 in 2022.
For her Junior year, Hansen needs to improve her ability to get outs. Despite pitching 20 more innings in 2023, Hansen struck out fewer batters than in 2022 and opposing batters had about the same batting average.
Raegan Breedlove (4 - 3) had quite a bit more work in 2023 than in 2022 starting 10 games and making 31 overall appearances. She appeared in 15 Conference tilts and her overall ERA of 2.81 ranked second on the staff.
As a Senior, Breedlove will be looking to generate more quality starts and relief appearances for the Ducks. Breedlove’s contribution will be critical if Oregon plans to rely on a three-pitcher rotation throughout next season. While issues of pitcher fatigue are less common in softball then baseball, being able to rely on whatever pitcher starts or comes on in relief takes one more worry off the players and coaches minds.
The 4th pitcher on Oregon’s roster is Elise Sokolsky who transferred in before last season from UConn as a Sophomore. Sokolsky was little used in 2023, appearing in only 6 games and pitching a total of 15 innings, none after February 19 due to injury. Sokolsky had a nice outing in relief against Oklahoma State in the Puerto Vallarta College Classic in February, scattering 3 hits and shutting out the Cowgirls over 3 innings. Because she did not pitch in any Conference games, her stats are not included in this article. Sokolsky was able to Redshirt the 2023 season and will return next season as a Redshirt Sophomore.
Points to Ponder
One of the things that came up while watching the Ducks late in the 2023 season was Hansen’s ability to get outs, particularly getting batters out once they had 2 strikes. Most pitchers have what they consider an “out” pitch: a pitch they can rely on to either fool a batter into swinging at a ball out of the strike zone, or failing to swing at a pitch that looks like a ball but isn’t and ends up a called third strike. Knowing a batter’s tendencies helps with this process, which is one of the reasons you see pitchers wear the chart on their forearms to which they frequently refer in such situations.
Over 49 innings of Pac-12 play*, Hansen faced 230 batters and moved 104 of them to a 2-strike count (includes all possible counts from 0-2 to 3-2). Of the 104 batters with 2 strikes, Hansen struck out just 25. Almost 30 percent reached base in one way or another. Hansen walked 10, fourteen got hits, she hit 5, two reached on error and 2 more reached on a fielder’s choice.
Stevie Hansen 2023
This is a marked contrast with Scott’s record. She pitched 60.8 innings in Conference play, faced 258 batters and had 112 with 2 strikes. Of Scott’s 2-strike count batters, she struck out 39 and only 23 percent reached base, almost all by getting a hit. Scott walked just 2 of these batters whereas Hansen gave 10 a free pass and hit another 5. Scott, however, had two instances in which the count was 0 - 2 and the batter hit a home run.
Scott also tended to be able to stay in games longer during her starts than Hansen, but some of this is due to the quality of the opponent. A team such as UCLA is likely to knock a pitcher out of a game early, regardless of her quality. On average (and including the two complete games Scott pitched for which pitch counts were not available - see below for explanation) Scott’s starts went about 5 innings which Hansen was under 4.
Morgan Scott 2023
It seems like an obvious point, but Oregon and its pitchers did better against the lower-tier Pac-12 teams in 2023 than they did against the upper-tier teams. However, Oregon also showed improvement against ranked Pac-12 opponents, winning at least 1 game in every series against those teams in 2023. In 2022, Oregon was swept by every ranked Conference opponent save one. The 2022 Ducks had just one sweep (of Oregon State) but had three series sweeps in 2023. These extra victories are what allowed the Ducks to improve from 10 - 14 in 2022 to 14 - 10 in 2023 in Conference. Additional victories that would place Oregon firmly in the upper tier in 2024 are going to be tough to come by as many will have to come against the other top tier Pac-12 teams such as UCLA and Stanford.
Importantly, the Ducks pitching staff seems as though its positioned to help Oregon reach higher goals in 2024. There’s little question “Version 6” will be looking to take the next step and earn a berth in the College Softball World Series next season. Going into 2024 with the same set of pitchers from last season will give Oregon a stability of approach to game management from Game 1. With a bit of improvement and consistency from the pitching staff, reaching Oklahoma City in 2024 is an achievable goal.
* Inexplicably, there are three games for which pitch counts were not made available but “innings pitched” and “batters faced” data were. This impacts one of Hansen’s starts and two of Scott’s, both of which were complete games. Except where noted, these games are not included in this analysis for obvious reasons. While having those results would change the numbers presented, it’s unlikely they would make any significant change to the trends described.