Pitching and defense – two areas that have been strengths for the Ducks this season – faltered early and often for Oregon, leaving the Ducks down 0-1 in the series and needing to win the next two games if they wish to return to the Women’s College World Series next month in Oklahoma City.
Kentucky – who had run-ruled the competition in sweeping their regional last weekend – touched Oregon ace Megan Kleist for a three-run bomb in the opening frame. and then plated a single run in the second inning to take a 4-0 lead.
Gwen Svekis got the Ducks on the board with a solo blast to left field in the second and Oregon cut the lead to 4-3 in the home half of the third inning when Mia Camuso scored on a throwing error and Jenna Lilley was driven home on a sacrifice fly from Svekis.
After getting the first two outs in the fourth, Kleist yielded back-to-back singles then was again victimized by a home run ball, this off the bat of third baseman Abbey Cheek, pushing the Kentucky lead back to four runs, 7-3
Haley Cruz and DJ Sanders both singled to open the home half of the inning and Lauren Burke’s pinch-hit single drove home Cruz. Sanders scored on a wild pitch but Burke was stranded at third when Lilley grounded out to shortstop.
Maggie Balint replaced Kleist to open the fifth and got out the inning unscathed despite hitting a batter, allowing a base hit and Sanders’ throwing error but wasn’t so fortunate in the sixth when the Wildcats again used the long ball to \extend the lead to 9-5 on Cheek’s second home run of the night., a two-run jolt to left field.
Cruz singled to lead off the sixth and scored on Sanders’ double into the left-center field gap, but that would be it for the Ducks who hadn’t lost a ball game since falling to Arizona State in Tempe on April 15th, a span of 16 games. It was Oregon’s second loss of the season at Jane Sanders Stadium.
“We’ve been in some tough games, tough situations,” said head coach Mike White. “But I don’t think we’ve been down three or four runs the whole year in a game. We got punched over pretty good right here. We need to come out and look at what happened and make the adjustments. If you look at it, we did a very good job against their top hitters. We have got to pitch better against their better hitters. That’s the first adjustment we’ve got to make. Secondly, we have got to be better at the top of the order. It comes down to that. Do your best players perform or do they not perform.”
“They came out really aggressive and I think today we came out a little complacent and expecting to win,” said Cruz. “We can be a good team but they came out firing and we need to come out firing tomorrow because they are going to put up a battle. It’s going to be a dogfight to win.”
“They punished our mistakes,” Svekis allowed, “but I think six runs should be enough to beat
that team. We need to make the defensive plays that we didn’t make. We need to shut down their momentum. We need to get our outs when we can … We are prepared for this moment. In my four years, there have been many moments that have prepared us for this moment right now. Earlier this year, we lost our first game against UCLA and then won the next two. It’s not something we aren’t prepared for. I expect us to come back tomorrow ready to go.”
White concurred, saying “Now it’s what we do tomorrow and the next day that
matters the most. How we are going to bounce back. If we want to go to the NCAA Championships and be the number one team, we need to come back from this. Plenty of teams have done it before. We need to be fired up and come out to play over the weekend.”
It is either that or be prepared to start summer vacation two weeks early. First pitch for game two is set for 8:00 pm and the game will be televised on ESPN2.
~ Rick Morgan