Maggie Balint tossed a two-hit shut out to pick up her 20th win of the season and the Oregon Ducks run-ruled the University of Illinois-Chicago Flames to open the Eugene Regional Friday evening at Jane Sanders Stadium.
The Ducks took a 4-0 lead after three innings but could have done much more damage but for the four runners left on base.
That changed in the fourth. The Ducks sent 13 batters to the plate, belted out five base hits and took advantage of two UIC throwing errors to plate nine runs to put the game out of reach.
Balint gave up a leadoff walk and a two-out single but struck out the side in the top of the fifth, sending the Ducks into Saturday’s winner’s bracket game against Wisconsin.
On the night the freshman righthander fanned nine Flames, walked two and got the Ducks in the clubhouse with only 85 pitches.
“Maggie pitched great tonight,” said Oregon head coach Mike White and her performance seemed to inspire her teammates.
“There was a lot of energy (out there),” White said. “They were pretty pumped up. I hope it continues. It was great to see … It’s a lot of fun coaching the team when they’re like that.”
Shannon Rhodes led the Oregon offensive attack with a 3 for 3 night at the plate. Jenna Lilley and Danica Mercado each added another pair to the hit parade with the Ducks finishing the night with an even dozen base hits. The Ducks also stole four bases with White saying “we wanted to be aggressive.”
The night started on the wrong foot literally for the Flames when starting pitcher Elaine Heflin injured her foot after the Ducks opened the home half of the first with back-to-back bunt singles.
The win was the Ducks 22nd consecutive NCAA regional win. Wisconsin advanced with a 7-2 win over Missouri in game one to set up Saturday’s 2:00 pm match-up. In the double elimination format the winning team will earn the rest of the day off while everyone else fights tries to find a way back through the losers bracket to Sunday’s final.
White indicated sophomore Megan Kleist will take the circle for the Ducks against the Badgers.
~ Rick Morgan