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Clark: Postseason implications for Oregon softball heading into UCLA series



The Women’s College World Series begins June 2, in Oklahoma City and the Oregon softball team expects to be one of the eight teams competing for a shot at the national [email protected]@http://www.ncaa.com/championships/softball/[email protected]@

With less than a month remaining before then, Oregon will face defending national champion UCLA at home this weekend in the final Pac-10 series of the year. From there, it’s on to NCAA Regional play, which the team will qualify for regardless of this weekend’s outcome, then Super Regionals, where the Ducks came up short against Missouri last [email protected]@http://www.ncaa.com/history/softball/[email protected]@

Winners of seven of their last nine games, the Ducks have a legitimate chance at taking their fourth-straight Pac-10 series, given the Bruins’ immense struggles as of late. For those who follow the team — or even have a general sense of college softball — you’ll understand what an impressive accomplishment that is.

A season ago, Oregon began league play on a great note. It took two of three games from Oregon State in Corvallis. The Ducks then cruised to their first, and only, series sweep at home against Cal. From that point on (April 11, for good measure), they won just three conference games over almost a month’s span. They were swept twice, once against UCLA and once against Stanford, before the end of the season.

Yet, with eight conference wins and a national ranking still in the top 20, Oregon was on the bubble when selection Sunday rolled around. The team diligently watched from the Moshofsky Center without truly knowing if it would make the cut or have their season end on the spot.

Oregon went on to beat Auburn and seventh-ranked Georgia Tech in winning the Atlanta Regional, and achieved its goal of reaching the Super Regional round.

There will be no watch party come selection Sunday this year. The goal isn’t to reach the postseason; it’s to do some serious damage in Oklahoma City. And there were certainly times this year when I thought that goal was far too lofty. But as I’ve seen the team make some crucial adjustments throughout the last half of the season, I have to admit they seem to be hitting their stride at the right time.

When I spoke with Mike White after the Arizona series a couple weeks ago, he said the goal heading into the final two home series would be to win at least two games in each series to put themselves in position to finish in the upper half of the conference.

You can cross Stanford off that list, and heading into the matchup with UCLA — which currently ranks sixth in the Pac-10 (Oregon’s fourth) — they’ll have a chance to potentially move into third place depending on how the rest of the league plays [email protected]@http://www.pac-10.org/Sports/Softball/Standings.aspx?sport=Softball&team=%&season=2010/[email protected]@

Oregon sits at 9-9 in Pac-10 play, with Arizona State (15-3), Cal (13-5) and Arizona (10-8) the three schools above it in the conference. With Cal heading to Arizona this weekend to face a Wildcats team that’s lost six of its last nine — including two to Oregon — the Bears will likely further solidify themselves as the outright No. 2. Should they sweep Arizona entirely — it’ll certainly be tough in Tucson — then Arizona and Oregon would likely flip-flop in the Pac-10 standings, which could greatly favor the Ducks when the Regional brackets are drawn up on [email protected]@http://www.arizonawildcats.com/sports/w-softbl/sched/[email protected]@

What does all this mean for Oregon in the long run? Well, a few things. First, there’s the potential of playing in a NCAA Regional round closer to home, which would be welcomed after last year’s trips to Georgia and Missouri. If the Ducks were to advance, there would be a good chance for them to host a Super Regional series in Eugene, where home field is generally given to the higher-ranked of the two teams.

The Ducks have played particularly well at home this season, even after a few opening-game losses. They haven’t been shabby on the road by any means, but I can imagine they’d like to be back on their home turf with a trip to Oklahoma City on the line.

A win tonight against UCLA — a team Oregon hasn’t beaten since May 12, 2004, when the Bruins were defending their national title — might be the boost they need to do just that.

 


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