Women's College World Series: Oregon's season comes to a close
The best season in Oregon softball history came to a close Sunday in Oklahoma City, Okla. after the No. 1 Ducks fell to No. 2 Alabama 2-0. A nail-biter throughout, the Ducks brought the winning run to the plate in the top of the seventh inning but couldn't break through to save their season.
Alabama used a solo home run by Haylie McCleney and an RBI single from Molly Fitchner in the bottom of the fifth as its only scoring, and rode a dominant performance in the circle from Jaclyn Traina to advance to the Women's College World Series championship series, where the Crimson Tide will face No. 5 Florida beginning Monday night.
Oregon coach Mike White decided to play the matchup game and started Karissa Hovinga in the circle instead of Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year Cheridan Hawkins. Alabama rolled out a lineup featuring eight right-handed batters, so the decision made sense with Hovinga a righty and Hawkins a lefty.
[Highlights: Oregon eliminated by Alabama]
Pitching in the biggest game of her career, the junior Hovinga might have had some nerves in the first inning. After her offense stranded two runners in the top half, she allowed a leadoff single to McCleney, who was eventually caught in a rundown between third and home and was tagged out by catcher Janelle Lindvall. Crisis averted.
After the first inning, both pitchers settled in. Both teams were set down in order in the second. The Ducks were having a hard time against Tide starter Traina, and understandably so, as she was topping out at 70 mph with her fastball. It's tough to do much against that kind of speed.
[Highlights: Oregon survives and advances past Oklahoma]
Courtney Ceo recorded a bunt single with one out in the third, but that was it for the Ducks. In the bottom half, Alabama managed to load the bases with with two outs but Fichtner flied out to left center to end the inning. Another crisis averted for Oregon.
The Ducks were living dangerously and needed a momentum-building rally, but couldn't crack the code against Traina. A story throughout the WCWS was the Ducks' struggles at the plate. Coming into Sunday they were hitting .269 as a team in the WCWS and were averaging only 2.3 runs per game after hitting a robust .369 and plating an average of eight runs a game in the regionals and super regionals. It should be noted, however, that the Ducks were up against two of the best pitchers in the nation in their two WCWS losses: Florida's Hannah Rogers boasted a 1.59 ERA through May 31 and Traina had 80 career wins entering Sunday's contest. Most teams would struggle against that duo.
[Highlights: Oregon shut out by Florida]
After a one-out single by Traina in the fourth, Coach White went to the bullpen and brought in Hawkins, who got the Ducks out of the inning.
Traina blazed through the top of the fifth, striking out Koral Costa and Nikki Udria. She was in total control.
The bottom half of the fifth frame proved to be Oregon's undoing as McCleney won a lefty-lefty matchup against Hawkins, taking her deep and gone to right to give Alabama the decisive run. Fichtner would later add her RBI knock to put the game out of reach.
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Heading into the seventh, things looked grim for Oregon. Not only was Traina in a groove, but the Tide had not given up a seventh-inning lead all season in 35 chances.
[Highlights: Oregon blanks Florida State in WCWS opener]
As they have done all year, the Ducks fought to the end. Senior Kailee Cuico singled to lead off the inning in what would be her final collegiate at-bat. Costa singled with two outs to bring the tension up even more but it all came crashing down for the Ducks as pinch-hitter Sammie Puentes struck out to end the game and the season for the Pac-12 champs.
Alabama advances to the final series to face Florida in an all-SEC battle.
Despite the loss, Oregon still has much to be proud of: The Ducks cruised to their second-straight Pac-12 title and advanced the farthest in the postseaon in program history. The UO will lose three standout performers to graduation in Courtney Ceo, Alexa Peterson and Cuico, but brings back the likes of Hawkins, Hovinga, Janie Takeda and Janelle Lindvall for what should be another championship-caliber squad next season.
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