Clark: It’s time for Oregon softball to turn the corner as a national contender
In his first two seasons at the helm of Oregon’s rising softball program, Mike White has molded the Ducks into a legitimate contender in the Pac-12 conference each year.
His teams have made back-to-back Super Regional appearances, falling just short of the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City. They’ve done so with relatively young lineups in the field and an emerging star in the pitcher’s circle. @@http://www.goducks.com/ViewArticle.dbml?SPSID=4373&SPID=245&DB_LANG=C&DB_OEM_ID=500&ATCLID=3758490&[email protected]@
Yet, with 107 victories in less than three full seasons, you start to get the feeling that this year’s team is playing with a greater sense of urgency. They’ve had plenty of success in the regular season — 36-21 in 2010 and 42-16 a year ago — which nobody can deny. @@I checked this and did the math but they were PDFs so no [email protected]@
But if you’ve followed Oregon softball with any interest over the past few seasons, you know a breakthrough isn’t far from becoming a reality. The Ducks field an experienced lineup with just one freshman playing extensively. By comparison, White started all four members of the junior class — Allie Burger, Kaylan Howard, Jessica Moore and Samantha Pappas — nearly every game their freshmen year. @@http://www.goducks.com/SportSelect.dbml?&DB_OEM_ID=500&SPID=245&[email protected]@
They went on to lose to Missouri in the Super Regionals. @@http://www.goducks.com/SportSelect.dbml?SPSID=4374&SPID=245&DB_OEM_ID=500&[email protected]@
The 2012 Ducks feature a balanced mix of upperclassmen, and they seem to play like it. After Oregon hosts Portland State University of the Pacific Coast Softball Conference in a doubleheader at Howe Field this afternoon, the Ducks figure to hit the 30-win mark by mid-April for the second-straight season. @@http://www.goducks.com/SportSelect.dbml?&DB_OEM_ID=500&SPID=245&[email protected]@
Now, all of this is fine and well, and if you’ve made it this far into the column you probably have a decent grasp of the college softball landscape. For those of you who don’t, here are a few quick points about softball on the West Coast.
The Pac-12 has four teams ranked in the top 10 and seven in the top 25 nationally. The only other conference that remotely compares is the Southeastern, with five teams in the top 25. @@http://www.ncaa.com/rankings/softball/[email protected]@
Of the past 11 national championship teams, 10 have come from the Pac-12, including the last six winners.
More recently, the conference had seven players selected among the top-25 finalists for the 2012 USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year. Three of those players represent the top-ranked California Golden Bears, who will be in Eugene for a three-game series with the Ducks this weekend. @@http://www.usasoftball.com/[email protected]@
This figures to be a must-watch series in the Pac-12, to say the least. Cal brings its 39-2 overall record and 11-1 clip in conference play to face an Oregon team that’s won five of its last six and currently sits in a comfortable third place in the league standings. @@http://www.calbears.com/sports/w-softbl/stats/2011-2012/[email protected]@
Oregon has had some success against Cal and 25th-year head coach Diane Ninemire — one of the most respected coaches in the country — over the years. When Cal visited Eugene back in 2010, then-No. 21 Oregon took all three games from then-No. 13 Cal, two of which weren’t decided until the ninth inning. The Ducks were swept in Berkeley last season, however, scoring just two runs in the final game to avoid being shutout for the entire series. @@http://www.calbears.com/sports/w-softbl/mtt/[email protected]@
I give you all of this seemingly trivial information as a measuring stick of sorts, to see just where Oregon can expect to be in late May. It’s been established that when Moore is in the circle, the Ducks will be in just about every game they play. She leads the conference in innings pitched (177 1/3) and is second in wins (20) and strikeouts (157), trailing only Cal’s Jolene Henderson in those categories.
Put simply, if Oregon gets hot offensively over the next month, the Ducks have a legitimate candidate for Pac-12 pitcher of the year. In the conference of championships, I can’t even begin to stress how impressive that feat would be.
You see, the pieces all seem to fit. The timing feels right, too.
And you would be hard-pressed to find a team more ready to take the next step from conference contender to national threat. There’s no better way to prove that sentiment true than a statement weekend against the nation’s best.
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