Oregon surrenders three home runs in upset loss of Super Regionals opener
Oregon entered the game with a 16-game winning streak, a 22-1 home-field record and as the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Kentucky, the No. 16 seed, was the upcoming underdog. A team that swept the Lexington Regional last weekend with three consecutive run-rule games to earn a spot in this week’s Super Regionals. A team that lost in back-to-back games, seeing its Tournament run end, last season against the Ducks during this time last season.
And in Thursday’s Eugene Super Regional opener, the underdog earned redemption.
“They came out really aggressive, and I think today we came out a little compliant, expecting to win,” Oregon right-fielder Haley Cruse said.
The Wildcats (35-19) defeated the Ducks 9-6 Thursday night at Jane Sanders Stadium, giving Oregon (50-8) its first upset loss in the Super Regionals since 2016.
“It was nice to see us continue with the momentum that we competed with at Regionals,” Kentucky head coach Rachel Lawson said. “We are always the underdog. We like the underdog role. So, that’s not something that surprises us.”
Kentucky’s momentum was found in its hitting.
In the first inning, they showed the 2,522-person crowd they were not to be doubted. After an 11-pitch walk for third baseman Abbey Cheek, Alex Martens unleased a three-run home run to get on the board first and give Kentucky a 3-0 lead.
The team earned all but one run, off home runs; hitting two three-run and one two-run home runs. Cheek led the Wildcats with five RBI, with Martens following her with three.
The Oregon defense deflated. Making four errors, ground balls were missed and throws were left uncaught and incomplete.
“Our defense didn’t have our backs at the end of the day,” Oregon senior catcher Gwen Svekis said. “That’s how you lose a ball game right there.”
Yet, one of Oregon’s best plays of the night was a perfectly timed dive-and-slide catch from Haley Cruse in centerfield during the top of the seventh.
— Oregon Softball (@OregonSB) May 25, 2018
In the circle, things were just as cloudy.
Oregon started with Megan Kleist for 4.2 innings, before switching to Maggie Balint, after Kleist allowed seven runs on seven hits. Balint was solid for a couple innings, allowing just two runs on three hits, before Oregon head coach Mike White brought Kleist out to finish the game.
Kleist was handed the loss, now 21-6, allowing the second-most runs in a game throughout her past three seasons at Oregon.
“We made pitches down the middle, that was really the bottom line,” White said. “We put ourselves in this situation.”
Kentucky also had trouble finding consistency in the circle, as they went through three pitching changes. The win was ultimately given to starter Erin Rethlake (12-4).
But Oregon is far from giving up. Game one may be over, but if the Ducks want another ticket to the Women’s College World Series they will have to come out tomorrow acting like the No. 1 seed they are.
“How are we going to bounce back?” White said. “Sure we had a bad game, But if we want to be National Champions, be the No. 1 team in the country, we need to be able to come back from this.”
The Ducks will be set on finding their own redemption in tomorrow’s rematch against Kentucky at 8 p.m. back at the Jane.
Follow Maggie Vanoni on Twitter @maggie_vanoni
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