Late comeback lifts Ducks over Badgers in Eugene Regional semifinal
Freshman Shannon Rhodes came to the plate with two outs in the top of the seventh. Gwen Svekis stood at third and Nikki Udria at second. Oregon trailed Wisconsin 5-3.
“My past couple at bats, I struggled with them,” Rhodes said. “I just put that in the back of my mind and decided if she throws a changeup I’m going to hit it somewhere inside the field.”
On a 3-1 count, Rhodes swung and got the contact she needed to tie the ballgame, pinging the ball down the left field line to clear the bases and extend the game.
The Ducks faced Wisconsin in the second game in the Eugene Regional after beating Illinois-Chicago 13-0 in the first game. Against Wisconsin, Oregon struggled through six innings after a strong start, but the seventh inning rally, followed by a Danica Mercado RBI double in the eighth, won the game 6-5.
“I thought that was a very intense game of softball for us,” head coach Mike White said. “Started off well for us, then it didn’t go so well for us, and obviously it finished up pretty good. Never said die.”
Miranda Elish led off the extra inning with an infield single. She advanced to second, and with two outs, Mercado stepped up.
The senior hit the ball to center field and Elish came screaming home and appeared to get tagged out, but home plate umpire Erin Peterson declared the freshman pitcher safe, giving the Ducks a 6-5 lead. The play was ruled obstruction as catcher Chloe Miller made contact with her hip before having possession of the ball.
“The umpire noticed it straight away — it wasn’t like she was deliberating,” White said. “I think she made the call that she saw.”
White gave Elish the go-ahead to run home.
“You gotta go in that situation with two out,” White said. “You know it’s hard to get hits in a row in this game and that’s the chance you’re going to take.”
Oregon held on to the lead to win the game with two eighth inning strikeouts from Maggie Balint, but the road to the win was not easy.
Megan Kleist got the start in the circle and her defense had a shaky start. After two errors, one by Kleist and another by Lauren Lindvall, the bases were loaded. With Kleist in the circle, the Ducks had three errors.
“You can’t practice it in front of a crowd of 2,500,” White said. “It’s a learning experience.”
One day after Miller blasted a two-run home run to right-center field, the senior repeated her effort, giving the Badgers a 3-2 lead with a two-run home run to right field. Miller hit a home run in the Eugene Regional at Howe Field when she was a freshman.
Kleist’s afternoon ended earlier than she would have liked as freshman Maggie Balint came in her relief in the fourth. Balint pitched a two-hit shutout in Oregon’s 13-0 win over Illinois-Chicago in game one.
“Maggie did a really good job coming in there, especially after giving up the home run there,” White said. “She really continued to pitch really well for us.”
Balint let up a two-run home run but the Ducks still managed the late comeback to advance to the regional final on Sunday.
“We were ready to fight for that seventh inning those last three outs,” Mercado said. “We try to add more grey hairs to coach White.”
Oregon will face Wisconsin, Missouri or Illinois-Chicago in tomorrow’s regional championship game at 4 or 5 p.m. at Jane Sanders Stadium.
Follow Shawn Medow on Twitter @ShawnMedow
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