'Sunday Night Softball' preview: No. 3 Oregon at No. 11 Utah
Location: Salt Lake City, UT
On the Call: Daron Sutton, Barb Jordan
As if the anticipation for this top-15 Pac-12 softball matchup wasn’t hot enough, we get to watch No. 3 Oregon take on No. 11 Utah twice Sunday in a doubleheader. Both teams are undefeated in Pac-12 play, with Oregon coming in as the nation’s sole undefeated team at 27-0. The Utes are coming in red hot as they get set to host the Ducks for their Pac-12 opener, though, after sweeping UCLA for the first time in school history. With both programs stacked with proficient pitchers, what will fall on Sunday?
In the visitors' dugout: No. 3 Oregon (27-0, 3-0)
The Ducks are a dominant force in the circle boasting a 1.12 ERA. Replacing Cheridan Hawkins was no easy feat, but Oregon’s youthful triumvirate of Megan Kleist, Miranda Elish and Maggie Balint has already shown they are up to the task. Kleist, the 2016 Pac-12 Co-Freshman of the Year, boasts a 0.77 ERA which ranks third in the league. Freshman Balint leads the group with 86 strikeouts this season, while fellow frosh Elish already has a Pac-12 Freshman of the Week award under her belt after her performance at the Mizzou Invitational.
Ducks to watch behind the plate:
Danica Mercado: The senior currently leads the conference with a .488 batting average. Hailing out of Temecula, Calif., Mercado went a staggering 10-for-16 with a tournament-high seven runs scored at the Oregon Invitational two weeks ago.
— Oregon Duck Softball (@OregonSB) March 18, 2017
Nikki Udria: Udria returns for her senior season after earning second team All-America honors in 2016. She ranks third in the Pac-12 with a .551 on base percentage and has 30 RBI this season.
In the home dugout: No. 11 Utah (21-4, 3-0)
The Utes started out hot last weekend by earning their first win over UCLA in Westwood in school history on Friday. They decided to up the ante and sweep the series over the Bruins, helping the Utes reach their highest ranking in program history. Utah has a dynamic duo in the circle in Katie Donovan and Miranda Viramontes, with a combined ERA of 1.02. Viramontes, the reigning Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week, has an ERA of 0.86 after limiting the Bruins to one run on nine hits in 11 innings, striking out six and walking none. Viramontes is undefeated at 7-0 this season, with two of those wins coming over UCLA. Donovan has tossed 69.2 innings with a 1.41 ERA.
Utes to watch behind the plate:
Hannah Flippen: The 2016 Pac-12 Player of the Year and US National Team member currently leads the Pac-12 in slugging percentage (.842), ranks second in RBIs (31) and third in on-base percentage (.539). The senior has eclipsed 200 hits and 100 RBIs for her career, and only needs two more runs scored to set the all-time mark for Utah.
She's really *FLIPPEN* good at softball, guys!
— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) March 20, 2017
Alyssa Barrera: Barrera, the freshman out of Chino Hills, Calif., paced the Utes with four runs scored and batted .364 in the series sweep of UCLA. Barrera opened her career with an 11-game hit streak and earned Pac-12 Freshman of the Week honors after leading the Utes with four runs scored and a .563 slugging percentage at the Mary Nutter Classic.
Oregon is 14-1 over Utah since the Utes joined the Pac-12. With two games on tap for Sunday, will the Ducks extend their winning streak or will Utah protect their home field?