Women's College World Series: Oregon moves on to semifinals
Saturday night's elimination game in the Women's College World Series was set up like a heavyweight title bout. In one corner, you had the No. 1 team in the nation, the Oregon Ducks. In the other corner stood the defending national champions, the Oklahoma Sooners. Something had to give.
Behind gutsy pitching from Cheridan Hawkins and timely hits from Janie Takeda and Kailee Cuico, the Ducks rode out a 4-2 win over the Sooners to advance to the semifinals of the WCWS for the first time in school history. This one was not decided until the final batter, though.
The first blows weren't landed until the third inning, as Oregon used a hit-by-pitch and a walk to set up a key rally. With Nikki Udria and Alyssa Gillespie on first and second, Takeda roped a line drive to left center that rolled all the way to the wall and allowed Udria to score easily. Next up was Cuico who was trying to work her way out of a bit of a slump. She rolled a grounder to the left side that took a bounce off a sliding Sooner defener. It rolled just far enough away for Gillespie to score from third as well as the hustling Takeda all the way from second to give Oregon a 3-0 lead.
Ducks starter Cheridan Hawkins was looking to improve on a shaky outing against Florida the day before and, even though she may not have had her best stuff on this nigh, she did more than enough to give her team a chance. Refusing to give in to the Sooner hitters and living on the outside corner, Hawkins hadn't given up a hit entering the fourth inning but did issue three walks.
[Related: Ducks can't solve Florida's Rogers]
Back-to-back singles to open the fourth inning set the table for Jessica Vest. She dumped in a single to left that got Oklahoma on the board and cut the deficit to 3-1.
Hawkins retired the next batter to end the fourth but gave up a moon-scraping homer to Shelby Pendley with two outs in the fifth. Suddenly, it was 3-2 and the pressure was on in this win-or-go-home game.
[Related: Hawkins dominant in win over Florida State]
Both teams put some traffic on the base paths in the sixth but neither pushed across a run. Oregon did, however, pad their lead with an all-important insurance run in the top of the 7th.
Udria singled to lead off the inning and eventually came around on Takeda's bloop single to center. 4-2 Ducks. Three outs to go.
Oregon coach Mike White make an interesting decision to begin the seventh. He pulled Hawkins and sent Karissa Hovinga to the circle. With a two-run lead, the Ducks had some leeway but things got dicey as Whitney Ellis led off with a single. After a groundout and a strikeout Pendley singled and just like that the game-winning run was standing in the batter's box. White brought Hawkins back into the game to face Williams and Hawkins won the battle, inducing a game-ending grounder to shortstop.
The Ducks survived the defending champs and their prize is a semifinal meeting with No. 2 Alabama Sunday at 12:30 p.m. PT.