'Somebody pinch me' -- UO coach White surprised by winning score
EUGENE — The Oregon softball team made Saturday's NCAA super regional decider against Kentucky fun for the 2,522 fans who packed into Jane Sanders Stadium.
The top-seeded Ducks (52-8) scored seven runs in the top of the second inning and cruised to a 11-1 win over the Wildcats (35-21) that sent Oregon to the Women's College World Series for the eighth time, the fifth time in the last seven seasons.
"Somebody pinch me," Ducks coach Mike White said. "I couldn't believe in my wildest dreams that we would come out and score that many runs. Just a tremendous achievement."
The WCWS begins on Thursday in Oklahoma City. Oregon will open play in the double-elimination phase of the tournament against No.8 seed Arizona State at 9 a.m. PDT.
The top eight seeds in the national tournament reached the eight-team WCWS.
The Ducks took two of three from the Sun Devils in Tempe, Arizona.
After dropping Thursday's Game 1 of the best-of-three Super Regional series, 9-6 to Kentucky, the Ducks played like a top seed on Friday and Saturday.
Miranda Elish (24-1), pitching the second day in a row, limited Kentucky to four hits while striking out seven in the five innings.
White went with the sophomore Elish in the circle for a second day in a row instead of Pac-12 pitcher of the year Megan Kleist. Elish pitched a two-hitter with seven strikeouts on Friday to extend the series to Saturday's decisive third game.
"It was still a tough decision, don't get me wrong," White said. "We've got probably one of the best pitchers in the country sitting on the bench there. It could have gone either way. Sometimes you've got to go with what's hot."
Elish's job was made easy by Oregon's bats. Seniors Jenna Lilley, DJ Sanders and Gwen Svekis combined for five of Oregon's 10 hits, along with eight RBIs and five runs.
Sophomore center fielder Shannon Rhodes started the big second inning by swatting the first pitch from Erin Rethlake over the fence in right-center field for the game's first run.
Freshman Lauren Burke walked on four pitches and was bunted to second by Lauren Lindvall. Mia Camuso walked, and then Lilley singled down the right-field line to score Burke.
Grace Baalman replaced Rethlake in the circle for Kentucky, but the scoring didn't slow down.
Lilley stole second. Then Alexis Mack reached when the Wildcats had Camuso caught off third, but Camuso made it back to third safely, Lilley retreated to second, leaving the bases loaded for Sanders.
The senior shortstop, who transferred to Oregon this year from Louisiana Lafayette, blasted the ball up into the safety netting behind the left-field fence for her 16th home run of the season to make it 6-0.
"It was just nice to score some runs, give our pitcher a lot of cushion," Sanders said.
Svekis, Cruse and Rhodes followed with base hits, with Svekis scoring the seventh run on Rhodes' single to center.
The Ducks added three more runs in the third on three hits, including a two-run Svekis triple followed by a Haley Cruse double, both with two out, to make the score 10-0.
Brooklin Hinz led off the fourth with a home run for Kentucky.
In the bottom of the fourth, Lilley singled home Burke for the 11th run.
After Kentucky had scored nine runs in Game 1 on Thursday, highlighted by a pair of three-run home runs off of Kleist, White said the focus was on limiting hittable pitches for Abbey Cheek and Alex Martens. Each was 1 for 3 with a single on Saturday.
"The pitchers had to commit to quality pitches, what we call pitches with intent and purpose," White said. "And that's what we did the last two days."