Heart Attack Ducks Headed to OKC

When Oregon head coach took the dais after the Ducks’ thrilling 6-5 come-from-behind win over Kentucky to advance to the Women’s College World Series, he asked for quick moment before taking questions.

“Slow the heart rate down just a little here, pretty pumped up after that,” he said.

Good idea. Trailing 3-0 after four innings, Whites’ Ducks narrowed the gap to one, only to see the Wildcats push the lead back to three with a two-run sixth.

At least this time his team spared him the suffering of waiting until two were out as they had in their stunning comeback over Wisconsin to open regional play last week.

Lead off hitter Danica Mercado singled to right field on an 0-1 count to get things underway. The “two” in the Ducks 1-2 punch at the top of the order – Alexis Mack – followed with an infield single – Oregon’s fifth such hit of the day – and when catcher Gwen Svekis worked Kentucky’s Meagan Prince for the walk, the bases were loaded with no one out.

That’s approximately the time Whites’ heart started racing. That was certainly the case for a packed Jane Sanders Stadium that rose in full voice when shortstop Nikki Udria laced a single up the middle to score two to cut the deficit to one once again, 5-4.

Shannon Rhodes’ sacrifice bunt moved the runners to second and third, bringing freshman Mia Camuso to the plate. On a 2-2 pitch the diminutive first baseman shot a ball down the left field line to bring home the tying and lead run.

But playing as the visiting team, the Ducks still needed three outs to secure a berth in the WCWS next week in Oklahoma City.

Starting pitcher Maggie Balint allowed five hits in four innings and gave way to Miranda Elish to start the fifth. Despite yielding Wildcats final two runs, Elish was in position to close out the series and pick up the win.

With high heat on a 2-2 count and then again at 3-2, Elish struck out the first two batters swinging, then coaxed Kentucky’s clean-up hitter Alex Martens into a game ending ground ball to third.

“I’d been struggling a little bit,” Camuso said of her game winning hit. “You’ve just got to keep swinging and pull through. I was just glad I got to do that for my team.”

“For us it was just get on base,” said White. “(It) doesn’t matter if it’s a hit by pitch, a walk, an error, a single…that’s our mentality this year. Last year it was, get somebody on and bomb it. That didn’t work out too well. Right now it’s grit, determination, scrappiness. And I think we showed that.”

This will be the Ducks fourth trip to the WCWS in Whites’ eight years at the helm.

Both White and Wildcat head coach Rachel Lawson spoke to the quality of play by both teams during the series and of the opportunity to showcase that talent to a growing audience.

“…It’s easier to be on the winning side,” said White. “But I think both teams can be very proud of the display they put on out there. It was first class all the way.”

The Ducks will open play in Oklahoma City against either Washington or Utah on Thursday.

~ Rick Morgan