Unbeaten in 24 games entering the series, UCLA had given the Ducks their first loss a year ago when Oregon visited Los Angeles with a 35 -0 record, tying the Bruins for the NCAA’s longest winning streak in history. Adding insult to injury, UCLA took the series from the Ducks, a loss that in the end proved crucial in preventing Oregon from claiming a fourth straight Pac-12 crown.
So payback was clearly part of the plan when the two teams took the diamond to open the series on Friday.
UCLA’s Rachel Garcia and Oregon’s Megan Kleist each threw up zeroes in the first three frames before the Bruins opened the scoring with a two-run home run to left field by Brianna Tautalafua. Garcia helped herself out with a solo blast to center in the sixth to put the Bruins up 3-0.
UCLA tacked on three more in the seventh with Aaliyah Jordan doing most of the damage with a two-run shot after Maggie Balint had relieved Kleist the inning before.
Oregon rallied with a pair of runs in the seventh on Lauren Lindval’s solo home run and Alexis Mack’s run scoring single.
With the streak now at 25 games, the Bruins sent Selina Ta’amilo to the circle in game two while the Ducks countered with Miranda Elish.
With the help of an error and a fielder’s choice the Ducks jumped on the Ta’amilo with a pair of runs in the first and added another in the second when Oregon first baseman Mia Camuso drew a bases loaded walk.
Oregon missed the opportunity to add to the lead when Haley Cruse bounced back to the pitcher, stranding three base runners.
Jenna Lilley was hit by a pitch to open the fourth and Mack walked. A fielder’s choice and Gwen Svekis’ single loaded the bases for Camuso who plated Oregon’s fifth run when she was hit by a pitch.
Mary Iakopo’s fifth inning single drove home two more, increasing Oregon’s lead to 7-0 and as it turned out provided the Ducks with their winning margin.
A late Bruin rally closed the gap to 7-5 when Aaliyah Jordan again went yard for a three run dinger on an 0-2 pitch in the top of the seventh.
Elish was finally able to nail down her 11th win of the season when she coaxed a ground out to shortstop for a force out at second base to end the game and give the Bruins their first loss of the season.
With the series at stake, Kleist and Garcia again squared off on Sunday. For six innings each lived up to her billing as the staff ace, tossing blanks at each other until finally in the home half of the seventh the Ducks were able to break through.
Iakopo was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning and Svekis battled Garcia through a series of pitches before landing a bloop single in short left field, moving Iakopo to second. A sacrifice bunt moved the runners up 90 feet and with first base open, the Bruins decided to pitch to Shannon Rhodes.
“I thought they might walk her,” said Oregon head coach Mike White. “But she struck out three times in Friday’s opener, so maybe it made sense to pitch to her instead of Haley (Cruse).”
No it didn’t.
“No pitcher is superwoman,” Rhodes said. “There comes a time when you’ve got to dig deep and believe in yourself, rather than be afraid … She was throwing a rise ball, and with my swing plane, something was bound to happen.”
Yes it did, a three run walk off home run on an 0-2 pitch over the left-center field fence, giving the Ducks the win, the series and an early leg up on the 3rd-ranked Bruins in the conference race.
“It was the three “B’s” said White of the Ducks’ winning rally; “a bunt, a bloop and a blast.”
In claiming the series from the Bruins, Oregon’s season record improves to 25-5 over all and 2-1 in conference play. UCLA slips to 25-2, 1-2.
Next up, the Ducks travel north on Hwy 99 for a three game set against Oregon State before returning to Jane Sanders Stadium to host Portland State for a non-conference double header beginning at 4:00 pm Tuesday, April 3rd.
~ Rick Morgan