Oregon softball advances to Women’s College World Series for first time since 1989

When the final out was recorded and the Oregon softball team officially punched its ticket to the Women’s College World Series for the first time since 1989, Mike White at first stayed away from the growing circle of players screaming in joy. He slapped five and hugged one of his assistant coaches, a slight smile of relief crossing his face. But the unbridled excitement of Oregon’s players couldn’t be seen on their head coach’s face just yet. @@[email protected]@

Then came the obligatory Gatorade bath.

After the initial cold shock wore off, a much wider and fuller smile crossed White’s face — as if at that moment he realized the enormity of what his team had accomplished. Not only had the No. 11-seeded Ducks (44-16) taken two straight Super Regional games in enemy territory over No. 6 seed Texas (47-13), but they had also — at long last — advanced to the biggest stage of them all, a Women’s College World Series that Oregon last appeared in before most of its current players were born.

The going was never easy, and Oregon had to fight through everything from controversial player ejections to mental lapses and missed scoring opportunities. But in the end, the golden ticket was punched.

“We tried to get on top early to put pressure on them … and it worked,” White said to “My hat’s off to our pitcher, Jess Moore. She really worked extremely hard. I know she’s going to be tired. It’s been a long two or three weeks for her since she’s pitched every game pretty much since regionals.”

Indeed, Moore was on the mound for all 20 innings over the course of the three game series, giving up a total of 14 earned runs and striking out 11 batters. After giving up four runs and taking the loss in Friday’s series opener, Moore returned to the circle on Saturday with a renewed focus — and her teammates responded in kind. @@[email protected]@

“I knew I needed to be stronger than I was (Friday),” Moore said to “And the team picked me up huge today. It was awesome going out there and pitching with a lead all day.”

Indeed, in the deciding game three, the Ducks used a six-run outburst in the second inning as a takeoff point and went on to put up four more runs in the fourth inning to effectively put the game — and series — away. First baseman Christie Nieto got things started in the second inning when she was hit by a pitch, and advanced to third base on a double from catcher Alexa Peterson. Moore then reached base on a fielder’s choice grounder, driving in Nieto and moving Peterson to third. A sacrifice fly pushed Peterson across home, and game two hero Janie Takeda followed with a double that scored Oregon’s third run. Two more singles and a double later, Oregon had doubled its total — and all of a sudden held a commanding 6-0 lead it would never relinquish en route to a 10-6 victory.

Oregon’s breakthrough game two victory came with considerably more nail biting. It took eight innings, two ejections and a series of missed scoring opportunities, but the Ducks managed to keep their season alive with a 5-4 win. Moore threw all eight innings to pick up the much-deserved victory, and even the ejections of first baseman Kailee Cuico and pitching coach Lisa Dodd couldn’t deter Oregon from the come-from-behind win. @@[email protected]@

Oregon took a 3-0 lead in the first inning on the strength of a Kelsey Chambers home run and an RBI single from catcher Alexa Peterson. Texas would quickly respond with a run of its own in the second, and a three-run outburst in the third gave the Longhorns a 4-3 lead. It stayed that way until the bottom of the fifth inning, when Peterson came through with another clutch single to score Chambers from third and tie the game.

It was during the ensuing at-bat that Cuico attempted to score from third on a bunt, but was tagged out on the slide. In the aftermath of the play, Cuico appeared to get tangled up with Texas catcher Mandy Ogle and tossed her elbow into Ogle’s face mask. The home plate umpire immediately threw Cuico out of the game, leaving Oregon down one of its best hitters.

Despite numerous chances with runners in scoring position over the final two innings, neither team could push across the winning run. The game went to extra innings, and after Texas went down in order at the top of the frame, Oregon finally broke through when Takeda scored the winning walk-off run.

The only bump in the road, as it turned out, came in Friday’s series opener, when the Ducks fell behind 4-0 in the fifth inning and never recovered. Moore pitched the entirety of that game, too, but still found herself chalked with the loss.

History will likely forget that game, though, as Oregon ultimately moved on to face defending champion and No. 3 seed Arizona State in the first round of the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City. The Ducks take their place as one of eight teams remaining in the field, and the best-of-three series with the Sun Devils begins on Thursday at 6:30 p.m.

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