In order to win the program’s first national championship, top-seeded Oregon will have to essentially win the Pac-12 softball title again.
This time in Oklahoma City.
The Ducks (52-8), one of four Pac-12 teams in the eight-team Women’s College World Series field, open double-elimination bracket play against conference rival Arizona State on Thursday at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium (12 p.m. ET, ESPN).
Oregon played six of the other seven teams remaining in the NCAA postseason field during the regular season, going 10-3 in the high-profile matchups.
“The funny thing is you may be the top seed, but you never feel that way,” coach Mike White said after the Ducks’ clinched the Eugene Super Regional with an 11-1 five-inning win over No. 16 Kentucky on Saturday at Jane Sanders Stadium. “You always feel like the other team is so close. You see teams like Florida, Oklahoma, UCLA, and you could go on and on. They’re all great teams, and what’s the difference in separation? Not much.
“It’s just a matter of getting the breaks at the right time and hitting.”
— NCAA Softball (@NCAAsoftball) May 27, 2018
The Ducks won two of three games against No. 8 Arizona State during the regular season in Tempe, Arizona. Oregon’s path to its fifth Pac-12 title in the past six years began with a dramatic series win over No. 3 UCLA at Jane Sanders Stadium and was bolstered by a sweep of No. 5 Washington in Seattle.
The challenging nonconference slate White put together started with an 8-3 win over No. 7 Georgia (SEC) in the season opener. The Ducks also split two games with No. 6 Florida State (ACC) in Tallahassee, Florida, and shut out No. 4 Oklahoma (Big 12) 5-0 in Eugene.
The only WCWS qualifier Oregon hasn’t faced this season is No. 2 Florida.
Oregon averaged 7.7 runs and nine hits during the three super regional games played in front of a total of 7,566 fans at Jane Sanders Stadium.
Kentucky coach Rachel Lawson said it would be “really cool” if the Ducks could take their home-field advantage with them to Oklahoma City.
White is hoping some of his team’s offense makes the trip.
“If we hit like that, we’re going to beat a lot of teams,” White said after Oregon took the drama out of the decisive Game 3 of the super regional with a seven-run second inning. “But you know that’s possibly not going to happen. I sure hope it does, but the most consistent thing is pitching and defense, that’s how you win championships.
“We have to go down there with a defense and pitching mindset, and then get our runs. So when opportunities come up, we have to take them.”
The Ducks can throw either Megan Kleist (21-6, 1.14 ERA) or Miranda Elish (24-1, 0.89 ERA) opposite Arizona State ace Gisele “G” Juarez (26-4, 0.91 ERA).
Kleist, the Pac-12 pitcher of the year, gave up seven runs during Oregon’s 9-6 loss to Kentucky on Thursday. Elish allowed two runs (one earned) over 12 innings in the Ducks’ two wins over the Wildcats.
— Oregon Softball (@OregonSB) May 28, 2018
“The eight teams that are going to be in Oklahoma City are the best teams in the country,” Elish said. “Coach White always says we need to just pitch with intent and purpose. This team can do it. We can win a national championship. We have to go game by game, but I know we can do it.”
This will be Oregon’s sixth appearance in the WCWS and the fifth under White.
“This team is closer than any team I’ve coached,” White said. “You can tell that they’re very close to each other.”
This article is written by Ryan Thorburn from The Register-Guard, Eugene, Ore. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.