Ducks in desert for top-10 series against Arizona
The Ducks are looking for a rebound.
Oregon softball (37-4) travels down to Arizona to take on the No. 3-ranked Wildcats in a three-game series starting Friday.
The Ducks, ranked No. 6 in the nation, are coming off back-to-back series losses at UCLA and against Washington. Oregon now runs the risk of losing a third consecutive series against another top team in Arizona (43-3). For Oregon, pitchers Megan Kleist, Maggie Balint and Miranda Elish will have to have stellar a weekend if Oregon is to beat Arizona.
“At times, we can play as good as anybody and we’ve seen that in the past,” head coach Mike White said. “I think our pitching is going to be there. Our pitching is not really disappointing me. Obviously giving up that two-run lead in the seventh last weekend was a bit of a shot. But overall, I think that our pitching staff is strong overall … and so I’m not so concerned in that area.
“The defense at times, we’re giving up some big errors, not making some big plays. But offensively we have to string the ball together and we have to get some more runs.”
The weekend series brings a different meaning for Oregon’s Danica Mercado, whose sister, Mo, leads Arizona with a .425 batting average. Danica said her family will no doubt make the trip. They’ll wear shirts with “Mercado” on the back, but with an Arizona “A” and Oregon “O” for the “A” and “O” in the last name.
In the build up to the series, they don’t talk much about strategy.
“I think that we definitely go more into competition mode,” Mercado said. “Every time we talk it’s just like, ‘I’m just excited to see her’ type of thing but we know that this weekend is going to be a competition with really important games.”
Like Oregon, Arizona lost 2 of 3 last weekend against Utah, but the Wildcats swept New Mexico State in a doubleheader earlier this week. White has been watching plenty of Utah softball this season. The Utes, 28-8, have won every Pac-12 series on their schedule so far barring their series against the Ducks, which Oregon swept.
“I love watching Utah right now,” White said. “I really like what coach [Amy] Hogue has done with that team. They’re buying into a system there. … I think we need to take a page out of their book — be a little more aggressive and go after these pitchers.”
Also similarly to Oregon, Arizona brings a strong pitching staff to the table, but the Wildcats primarily use ace Danielle O’Toole and Taylor McQuillin. O’Toole has a 0.84 ERA, but White thinks the Ducks could score against her. Just like Utah did.
“Obviously, they had a secret for O’Toole too. They gave her two losses, which no one else has been able to do,” White said. “They had a game plan that we’re going to try and replicate.”
The series begins on Friday at 5 p.m. on the Pac-12 Network. ESPN2 will carry games two and three.
Follow Shawn Medow on Twitter @ShawnMedow