Huskies beat Ducks
The Oregon Ducks still have never started a Women's College World Series with two wins.
Which makes the odds quite long for the Ducks to win their first national championship.
The Washington Huskies played the better defense and were the more opportunistic team at the plate in a 6-2 win over top-seeded Oregon on Friday in a winner's bracket game at Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City.
"I'm very disappointed in the way our team approached that game — offensively and defensively," Oregon coach Mike White said. "They just simply outplayed us, obviously, in all phases."
The No. 5 seed Huskies (51-8) broke open a pitching duel with four runs in the bottom of the fifth inning and tacked on two more in the sixth. The Ducks scored twice in the top of the seventh.
The loss means Oregon (53-9) must win three games over the next two days without losing again to reach the championship series. First comes one game on Saturday. The Ducks will face the survivor of a Saturday morning loser-out game between Georgia and Florida State. Those teams play at 11:30 a.m. PT on Saturday, with the winner then meeting Oregon at 6:30 p.m.
Washington needs only one win during Sunday's semifinals to reach the best-of-three championship series.
Oregon swept three games at Washington in Pac-12 play, but on Friday the Huskies' defense was much better than the Ducks' defense.
Frustration was the theme of Oregon's postgame press conference. The Ducks admitted they got away from their game plan at the plate against Washington freshman pitcher Gabbie Plain. Plain had only one strkeout and walked three, but limited the Ducks to four hits — two of those after she returned to the game in the seventh inning.
"The reason she's so good is not because she blows it by people or a ball that's untouchable movement-wise, it's because she hits her lanes really well," Oregon senior catcher Gwen Svekis said. "We knew exactly what was coming, and we didn't go after it. So it's very frustrating, but at the end of the day, I think today was more on defense than it was on offense. Yes, our offense didn't play up to its abilities, but our defense is what let us down."
Friday's game started as a pitching duel between Oregon junior Megan Kleist and Plain.
The difference came in the fifth inning, when the Huskies took advantage of a pair of mistakes by the Ducks' defense by getting timely hits.
Noelle Hee started the inning with a single off the glove of shortstop DJ Sanders, only the second hit of the game off Kleist. Emma Helm then bounced to Oregon third baseman Jenna Lilley, but Lilley's attempt to throw out the lead runner at second was late and off target, allowing pinch-runner Kaija Gibson to reach third base.
Pinch-hitter Nawai Kaupe popped a bunt to Lilley for the first out, and then Trysten Melhart walked on four pitches to load the bases.
Kelly Burdick hit the ball to Sanders, but her throw to the plate was off line. The glove of catcher Svekis hit the facemask of Washington's Gibson as Gibson slid home with the first run of the game.
Tayler Van Zee then hit a two-run single to right.
After Miranda Elish replaced Kleist, Sis Bates hit an RBI double. Elish then struck out the next two batters to end the inning.
White said none of it should have happened.
"One, we've got to handle that first hit. Two, we've got to make the throw home, and we don't make the throw. So it's a little frustrating," he said. "It puts a lot of pressure on our pitches. I know Megan's taken a lot of the lump here, but she did a great job of making good pitches at key times, and we didn't step up behind her."
Oregon had runners on base in every inning, but one day after torching Arizona State for 14 hits the Ducks couldn't lift Plain's low pitches out of the infield.
With two out in the top of the sixth, Shannon Rhodes walked and Haley Cruse singled against relief pitcher Taran Avelo and the runners moved up on a passed ball. But Lauren Burke grounded out to end the threat. At that point, the Ducks were 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position.
Washington's two insurance runs in the bottom of the sixth came on a walk, an RBI double from Taryn Atlee and a fielder's choice play.
The Ducks scored the first runs against Washington in 14 World Series innings when they tallied two runs on three hits in the top of the seventh. Lauren Lindvall, Jenna Lilley and Gwen Svekis delivered hits in the inning, which included the Huskies' only error.
The final out was an interference play when Sanders and Washington shortstop Bates collided as Bates went to field a ground ball off of Rhodes' bat.
Kleist (21-7) suffered the loss. She threw 4 1/3 innings and was charged with four earned runs. Kleist allowed four hits, walked two and struck out four.
Elish was touched for two earned runs in 2 1/3 innings. She struck out three, walked one and gave up two hits.
"I thought our pitching staff did a pretty good job, but defensively, and I said this before, defense wins championships and it can also lose championships," White said. "We just did not make the big play when we had to and they did. They made some superb (defensive) plays out there."
In WCWS history, 31 of 35 champions have started 2-0 including the last 10 years in a row. So the odds are very much against the Ducks, who had hoped this would be their breakthrough trip to the series.
If they survive on Saturday, the Ducks will need to sweep two games on Sunday from No. 3 UCLA.
The Bruins rallied from four runs down Friday night to beat No. 2 Florida, 6-5, giving the Pac-12 at least two semifinal teams.
"We've shown we can bounce back, but we've got to play better softball," White said. "Their performance today is not going to get us much further if we don't get better. But we've shown we can be better, and that's the frustrating part about it is not putting your best game out there on the big stage. And we'll talk about that."
WOMEN'S COLLEGE WORLD SERIES
At Oklahoma City
1. (1) Oregon 11, (8) Arizona State 6
2. (5) Washington 2, (4) Oklahoma 0
3. (2) Florida 11, (7) Georgia 3 (5 innings)
4. (3) UCLA 7, (6) Florida State 4
5. Washington 6, Oregon 2
6. UCLA 6, Florida 5
7. Arizona State vs. Oklahoma — 9 a.m. PT, ESPN
8. Georgia vs. Florida State — 11:30 a.m. PT, ESPN
9. Game 7 Winner vs. Florida — 4 p.m. PT, ESPN
10. Game 8 Winner vs. Oregon — 6:30 p.m. PT, ESPN
11. Washington vs. Game 9 Winner — 10 a.m. PT, ESPN
12. UCLA vs. Game 10 Winner — 12:30 p.m. PT, ESPN
13. Game 11 Repeat (if neccesssary) — 4 p.m. PT, ESPN
14. Game 12 Repeat (if necessary) — 6:30 p.m. PT, ESPN
WCWS Championship, Game 1 — 4 p.m. PT, ESPN
WCWS Championship, Game 2— 5 p.m. PT, ESPN
WCWS Championship, Game 3 — 5 p.m. PT, ESPN (if necessary)