Ducks Rally Late Past Wisconsin 6-5

“That was intense,” said Oregon head coach Mike White following the Duck’s eight inning, come from behind 6-5 win over the Wisconsin Badgers at Jane Sanders Stadium.

With the win, Oregon remained undefeated in regional play under White and advanced to the regional final for the seventh straight year.

Few – if any – of those 23 consecutive previous wins required the Houdini act Oregon pulled off on Saturday.

Playing as the visiting team, the Ducks opened the game with a bunt single, a stolen base and took advantage of the first of three Wisconsin errors on the day to jump ahead 2-0.

Shortstop Nikki Udria drove home the first, bouncing into a fielder’s choice to score Danica Mercado. Shannon Rhodes followed up with a well placed roller to shortstop to send Alexis Mack across the plate.

The Badgers’ Kaitlyn Menz coaxed a ground out to first base from Madi Bishop to get out of the inning and for the next four innings kept the Ducks’ bats in check.

Megan Kleist opened in the circle for the Ducks and worked her way out of a one out, bases loaded jam in the first but the Badgers broke through with a three run second with Chloe Miller’s two-run blast to right center the key blow.

Kleist got out of the third unscathed on nine pitches, but ran into more trouble in the fourth. After getting the first two batters, Kleist issued a walk after an 11-pitch at bat. When the baserunner stole second base, White summoned Friday’s starting pitcher Maggie Balint from the bullpen to get out of the inning.

With the Ducks bats staying silent, Wisconsin added a pair of runs in the fifth with a lead off single and Sara Novak’s laser over the left wall to put the Badger up 5-2 and Oregon down to their final six outs.

Rhodes singled to open the sixth, stole second and advanced to third on a wild pitch. Miranda Elish lifted a sacrifice fly to center field to break the drought Menz had cast on the Ducks.

Leading 5-3 with three outs to go, Menz got ground ball outs from Mercado and Mack to push Oregon to the brink.

And then came the lightening.

Gwen Svekis bounced a ball through the middle then Udria singled to right field with Svekis moving up to third and Udria taking second on the throw. On a 3-1 pitch Rhodes – who finished the day 3 for 4 at the plate – yanked a change up from Menz deep into the left field corner to score them both and knot the game at 5.

Balint gave up a one out double to the Badgers in the bottom half but nothing else and the game moved into extra innings.

Miranda Elish reached base on an error and moved up a base on Lauren Lindvall’s sacrifice bunt. Jenna Lilley flied out to left to bring Mercado to the plate.

On a 1-1 pitch the senior right fielder lined a single to center and White waved Elish around third toward home. The throw from center arrived a half step late and plate umpire Erin Peterson flagged the Wisconsin catcher for interference, blocking Elish’s path to the plate and awarded Oregon the go-ahead run.

Needing three outs, Balint gave up a lead off single but with a strike out, a fielder’s choice and another strikeout, the Ducks were into the final.

“I think she (Elish) hit the catcher before she had the ball, so that’s obstruction,” said White. “The umpire noticed it straight away. It wasn’t like she was deliberating. So I think she made the call that she saw”

“My past couple at-bats she (Menz) threw me multiple change-ups, and I struggled with them,” said Rhodes of her game tying at bat. “So I just put that in the back of my mind and decided that if she throws me a change-up, I’m going to hit it somewhere inside the field, inside the foul lines.”

“Hat’s off to her,” White said of the Ducks struggle to score on Menz. “She pitched a very good game and made it very difficult on us.”

Balint picked up the win to improve her season record to 21-3.

Later in the day, Wisconsin eliminated the University of Illinois-Chicago and will need to beat Oregon twice on Sunday if the are to prevent the Ducks from advancing to the super regional next weekend. Game one is set for 4:00 pm and if necessary game two will follow at 7:00pm.

~ Rick Morgan