Any coach worth quoting has at some point put aside the script and gone with a hunch. Those that don’t work out sometimes slip under the radar, but when the hunch plays out it can be a thing of beauty.
And in terms of having those hunches play out, Oregon head coach Mike White is on quite a roll.
Oregon’s 4-0 victory over the Albany Great Danes Thursday evening at Jane Sanders Stadium in the Eugene Regionals opener offers an abundance of evidence.
White’s growing confidence in pitcher Miranda Elish allowed him keep a pocket ace and Elish’s four-hit, 14 strikeout masterpiece gives White the luxury of sending Megan Kleist to the circle in Friday’s match-up with Drake. The second seeded Bulldogs advanced into the winner’s bracket with the Ducks thanks to a 3-2 come from behind win over BYU in Thursday’s opening game.
“We’ve got two number one’s,” White said of his choice to open the series with Elish. “The only main difference between whether I choose Miranda or Megan is the experience right now. Megan has that one year more of experience which I think gives her a little bit of edge and she is able to use all of her pitches a little more effectively than Miranda. Now, Miranda’s stuff is just as good as Megan’s but it’s just a matter of experience right now.”
While White’s reasoning in having Elish open the series played out over seven full innings, his hunch – based on her performance in practice during the week – to send Lauren Burke out to pinch-hit with D.J. Sanders on base and one run already across played out in an instant.
Jenna Lilley opened the inning with a double and advanced to third on Alexis Mack’s sacrifice. With the count full to Sanders, Albany pitcher Celeste Verdolivo unleashed a wild pitch and Lilley slid under the tag to give Oregon a 2-0 lead.
With Sanders now on first, White sent Burke up to the plate in place of Shannon Rhodes. and the freshman from Eugene’s Marist High hammered an 0-1 riseball over the right field fence.
“The first pitch I let go was a really good pitch to hit.” said Burke. “So I was just looking to attack anything that was close to the zone and that’s what I did.”
The Ducks took a 1-0 lead in the third. Mack opened with a single and then stole second. Sanders drove her in with a single to left and although she advanced to second on the throw, the Ducks went down 1-2-3 without doing any more damage.
“(Verdolivo) spun the ball around pretty good,” white said of the Albany pitcher after his team ended the day 1 for 6 with runners in scoring position. “She knew what the umpire’s (strike) zone was and it was kind of tricky. She was jamming us up … She kept us off balance really well.”
With his ace Kleist in the circle, White and the Ducks will now turn all attention to Drake and staying in the winner’s side of the bracket.
“I’ll tell you what,” White said “tomorrow we better be ready because we’re facing a very good pitcher in (Nichole) Newman from Drake and we need to be ready because she’s going to bring it. She’s got one of the lowest ERAs in the country, and we know that.”
The Bulldogs and the Ducks will square off at 3:00 pm with the winner taking the rest of the afternoon off while the team that loses will be forced to win twice on Friday to get to the championship round on Saturday.
~ Rick Morgan