In previous appearances Oregon’s exit from the Women’s College World Series stemmed from the Ducks’ struggles in keeping the bats hot deep into the post season where it is a given you will be facing the best pitcher each opponent has to offer.
Once arriving in Oklahoma City, Oregon has found regular season numbers were halved or more in terms of runs scored and base hits and the Ducks especially found the long ball to be almost non-existent in the WCWS.
Boy, was that not the case in Thursday’s opening round 11-6 win over conference rival Arizona State.
In her third consecutive start Miranda Elish was credited with the win but surrendered a first inning two-out, two-run bomb to the Sun Devils’ DeNae Chatman to put the Ducks in an early hole.
Oregon evened the score in their half with Gwen Svekis driving in a pair of runs on a flare single to short left field.
ASU pitcher Giselle Juarez came into the post season sporting a 26-4 record and an ERA of 0.91 but one of those losses was to the Ducks in Tempe last April 13th. Two days later Juarez did shut out Oregon on three hits to prevent an Oregon sweep of the series but the Oregon bats came out in force when facing the sophomore lefthander a third time in Oklahoma City.
Neither team dented the scoreboard in the second frame before the Ducks broke the tie with a three-run third.
Alexis Mack beat out a single to shortstop and moved to second when Svekis was hit by a pitch. Shannon Rhodes’ single scored Mack and moved Svekis to third, with Rhodes taking second on the throw. Already having established a legacy for clutch base hits in the regional rounds, freshman Lauren Burke added fuel to the fire turning on the first pitch she saw for a bases clearing triple done the right field line.
In the fifth, Jenna Lilley stretched a single into two bases, taking advantage of a bobble by the left fielder then scored when the Sun Devils were unable to cleanly field Mack’s bunt attempt.
It was the long ball that brought ASU back into the game and again it was two-out damage. With runners on first and second, Elish grooved a 1-1 pitch and watched it leave the yard off the bat of Morgan Howe and the Sun Devils were back within a run at 6-5.
The Ducks wasted no time in responding in kind. Rhodes laced a double to the wall down the left field line and after Burke uncharacteristically stranded her there with a pop-out to shortstop, scored on the front end of Haley Cruse’s line-drive home-run to left.
With an 8-5 lead, Oregon head coach Mike White brought in Megan Kleist to close the door on ASU and after the junior right-hander tossed a 1-2-3 sixth, Rhodes crushed a three-run jack to deep left-center field to push the Ducks’ lead to 11-5 .
Yielding a lead-off walk in the seventh came back to bite when Kleist surrendered back-to-back base hits plated ASU’s final run.
On the day, Elish was charged with five runs on six hits, giving up one walk and striking out six. In her first appearance of the season in relief, Kleist picked up a save after walking one, allowing a pair of base hits and one run with two strike outs in two innings of work.
With the win the Ducks advance to the winner’s bracket and will face another Pac-10 foe in Washington at 4:00 pm PDT on Friday. The Huskies blanked two-time defending national champion Oklahoma 2-0 in the second game of the first session.
~ Rick Morgan