Preview: Kentucky stands in the way of Ducks’ World Series hopes
Oregon owns the regionals. Last weekend, three victories, two run-rules and one seventh ending comeback, gave the Ducks their eighth straight season reaching the NCAA Super Regionals. After another weekend of regionals under head coach Mike White, Oregon is 24-0.
The super regionals aren’t such a perfect story. Oregon is 8-9 in super regionals under White, and the Ducks reached the World Series three times in eight seasons. Last season, the Ducks were in the driver’s seat after winning game one against UCLA. The Bruins would go on to win the final two games in the series, eliminating and upsetting Oregon.
“If you win the first game, it doesn’t mean you’re going to win the series,” White said. “We’re playing well right now, and that should help us, but we’re playing a team that’s very well coached.”
This season, the No. 3 seed Ducks (50-9) take on the No. 14 Kentucky Wildcats (39-17). The two teams met earlier this season in the first game of the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic. Oregon won 5-4 after a three-run sixth inning comeback.
In the game, Kentucky took a 4-1 lead after the fifth inning. The Wildcats forced Oregon’s Megan Kleist and Maggie Balint into tough situations, so Kentucky knows it can score on Oregon’s talented pitchers.
Two errors in the sixth inning by Kentucky allowed Oregon to tie the game. In the seventh, it was offensive star Nikki Udria who homered to center field to give Oregon the win.
“They surprised us a little bit, they jumped out on us,” White said. “It was a good result in the end, but it was kind of a sloppy game. I think it’s going to change.”
Both teams will now face each other with a season’s experience under their belts.
The Ducks are in the midst of a 13-game winning streak. Throughout the winning streak, freshman Shannon Rhodes has been on fire. Her 15-game hitting streak is the highest on the team this season, one over Udria’s 14-game streak.
Rhodes drove an Oregon offense that scored 28 runs in the three regional games.
On the mound, the Ducks three stars — Balint, Kleist and Miranda Elish — were solid. They recorded two shutouts. Wisconsin scoring five runs in the first showdown, but Elish and Oregon shut out the Badgers a day later.
Kentucky went 3-0 in the regionals as well, with victories over DePaul and Illinois to reach Eugene.
Meagan Prince is the Wildcats’ leading pitcher with an ERA of 1.82. In her 188 innings pitched she has 173 strikeouts and 78 walks. Offensively, Abbey Cheek is their power hitter and leader. Her 12 home runs and .401 on-base percentage leads the team.
Kentucky may be the underdog, but they don’t care.
“We’re going into it very excited very eager and very confident,” Kentucky infielder Alex Martens said. “[Oregon] is great. They’re gritty. They know how to play the game. They have a strong pitching staff. We’re going to play our game, and hopefully our game wins out.”
Game one is on Friday at 4 p.m. at Jane Sanders Stadium.
Follow Jack Butler on Twitter @Butler917
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