Twenty-four and counting… sort of boggles the mind that despite losing the program’s record setting pitcher and seven other position players who were the chief culprits in Oregon’s four consecutive Pac-12 championships the 2017 Ducks – and their replacements – enter conference play with a perfect 24-0 record.
Cheridan Hawkins won’t soon be forgot, but in her stead head coach Mike White has a handful of options and they all have performed well so far. Megan Kleist shared duties with Hawkins ably as a freshman and has now assumed Hawkins’ place in the pecking order.
8-0 on the year heading into Friday’s opener against Cal, Kleist has struck out 57 while walking only 12 batters in 54.1 innings of work. With an ERA of 0.77 and an average against of .190 the right-hander also has some pop at the plate as evidenced by a home run and two RBI in her admittedly limited seven at bats.
A pair of freshman – Maggie Balint and Miranda Elish – have been good right out of the gate. Balint is 11-0 with 86 strikeouts in a team leading 56.2 innings of work while Elish is also unblemished at 5-0 with an ERA of 1.62.
Gwen Svekis has taken over catching duties from the graduated Janelle Lindvall and has capably replaced Lindvall’s bat as well, hitting .381 with three home runs.
Sammie Puentes’ .571 batting average leads the team with 6 Ducks sporting averages above .400. As a team the Ducks are hitting .385 while holding the opposition to .182.
Senior shortstop Nikki Udria leads the team with a .770 slugging percentage and six home runs in addition to anchoring the infield defense alongside 2B Danica Mercado.
Jenna Lilley at third base and Lauren Lindvall either in the outfield or in relief of Mercado at second gives the Oregon pitching staff an experienced defense that doesn’t give up too many extra opportunities.
As impressive as Oregon’s unbeaten record may be, a fifth straight title defense will be a gauntlet. As per usual, the Pac-12 is loaded with talented teams again in 2017. Arizona enters conference play at 26-1, Washington at 21-3. Nemesis UCLA is ranked #10 in the country at 21-5.
Add to the four consecutive conference titles and a #3 national ranking the Ducks both have hopes of a Womens’ College World Series appearance and the knowledge the rest of the conference has them targeted as the team to beat.
The fun begins on Friday against the Bears. First pitch is set for 6:00 pm. Saturday’s game two will be a 2:00 start with the series wrapping up Sunday at noon.
~ Rick Morgan