EUGENE, Ore. — If Thursday’s top-five battle between Oregon and Oklahoma was any indication of how the Ducks stack up nationally this season, it’s about to be a very entertaining, and lengthy, spring.
The No. 4 Oregon softball team ended the two-time defending national champions’ 30-game win streak with a dominating performance Thursday at Jane Sanders Stadium, using one-hit pitching by junior Megan Kleist, two home runs and sterling defense to beat the No. 2 Sooners 5-0. A short-hopper that darted under the glove of shortstop DJ Sanders in the fourth inning was the only hit, but Kleist coaxed a double-play ball from the next batter and ended up facing the minimum over seven innings.
“In my book, she just threw a no-hitter against the back-to-back national champions,” Oregon coach Mike White said. “She was just in control the whole game.”
— Oregon Softball (@OregonSB) April 20, 2018
Kleist (14-5) silenced the nation’s most prolific offense, shutting out an Oklahoma lineup that came into the afternoon averaging 7.22 runs per game. The Ducks (34-7) will host Stanford in a three-game conference series beginning Friday, and White was wary of overworking Kleist and jeopardizing that series; she eased those concerns with a coolly efficient victory over the Sooners.
“You can’t help but look at the name across their chest — they’re two-time national champions,” Kleist said. “But you’ve got to look past that. They’re just another team. When we come out and play our, best I have no doubt we can beat anyone who steps on the field.”
If the Ducks play like they did Thursday, that certainly is the case. Not only had Oklahoma (39-3) won two straight NCAA titles, the Sooners eliminated Oregon from the 2017 Women’s College World Series, and hadn’t lost a true road game since 2016. But the Ducks dominated to improve to 9-1 all-time against top-10 opponents at The Jane.
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“This is about getting ready for the postseason,” White said. “Playing teams like that, seeing their approach and what they do, is good for us.”
Oregon’s approach at the plate against Oklahoma ace Paige Parker was helped by the fact the Ducks had seen left-handed pitching each of the last three weeks in Pac-12 play. Parker came into Thursday third in the NCAA with a 0.73 ERA, but only lasted three innings thanks to a big-time power display from Oregon.
Leadoff hitter Jenna Lilley gave a hint of things to come in the bottom of the first, crushing a long foul ball onto 18th Avenue before grounding out. Alexis Mack followed with a walk, and senior DJ Sanders launched a missile over the left-field fence, putting the Ducks up 2-0.
— QuackCave (@QuackCave) April 20, 2018
Sanders, who led the country with 29 home runs last season while at Louisiana, had hit as low as ninth in the order while searching for some consistency at the plate with the Ducks. White rolled the dice and moved her back up to the No. 3 hole on Thursday, and it paid off.
“It actually made me really nervous,” Sanders said. “But I feel like he still has trust in me.”
Freshman Mary Iakopo continued the power display in the third with a mammoth solo shot that hit high off a screen protecting the area behind the left-field fence. That Ducks tacked on off OU reliever Mariah Lopez in the fourth, with Lilley singling in Mia Camuso and coming around to score on a base hit by Sanders.
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Kleist faced the minimum despite allowing two baserunners. In the second, Kleist allowed a leadoff walk, but catcher Gwen Svekis cut down the runner trying to steal second with a throw from her knees. After the ball that got by Sanders for the only hit in the fourth, Kleist coaxed a comebacker and started the inning-ending double play herself.
That was all she allowed, on a day Kleist struck out five and needed only 86 pitches to dispatch of the two-time NCAA champs.
It was just one game; a nonconference matchup in April at that. But for an Oregon team looking to get back to Oklahoma City and make it an extended stay, Thursday’s dominant display portended good things to come.