Eugene native and Oregon utility player Lauren Burke is a freshman. A freshman who has only played in 28 of Oregon’s 54 games this season — starting in a mere 10.
But a freshman who only needed two pitches in an NCAA first-round Regional to unleash a monster two-run, pinch-hit home run.
It was the only home run of the game and the only hit of the game that got the 2,522-person crowd, including her parents, sisters, niece and grandma, on its feet.
“It made me super proud. It made tears come down my eyes,” Burke’s mother, Cheryl, said after the game. “She’s worked hard, and to be in Regionals and to get to perform like that, [it’s] just a proud mama moment.”
Burke’s two-run home run in the fifth inning secured the No.1 ranked Oregon Ducks(48-7) a 4-0 win over No. 4-seed University of Albany(32-15) to open the Eugene Regional Thursday evening at Jane Sanders Stadium.
“I thought Miranda [Elish] came out and pitched a very good game,” Oregon head coach Mike White said. “We had a couple runners on and couldn’t quite bring them in and then, fortunately, we were able to get a hit there. Of course, Lauren maybe looked pretty good with that home run, so that certainly helped.”
In the bottom of the fifth, White brought up Burke to pinch-hit for Shannon Rhodes claiming that her swing had looked “crisp” all week in practice.
After Albany pitcher Celeste Verdolivo’s first pitch went by, Burke channeled in her impressive batting history to lock in for a home run on pitch number two — a riseball Verdolivo claims wasn’t high enough.
“The first pitch I let go was a really good pitch to hit and so I was just looking to attack anything that was close to the zone and that’s what I did,” Burke said.
The Eugene crowd’s support is a familiar comfort to Burke. From being a part of the crowd during games at Howe Field as a kid to now playing on a national stage for her dream team in front of family, friends and fans; the home run — her first postseason at-bat — made a lasting impression.
“Having the experience with all my family surrounding me is extra special,” Burke said.
Senior Jenna Lilley also scored in the fifth inning during DJ Sanders’ walk to first, giving the Ducks their second run of the day. Alexis Mack scored the Duck’s first run during the bottom of the third inning off an RBI single from Sanders.
But aside the runs on the board and Burke’s home run, it was a pitchers duel.
Both Verdolivo and Elish hold resumes highlighted with perfect games. Yet, Elish outshines the comparison with her a 0.96 ERA over Verdolivo’s 1.87.
On the circle, Elish made quick work of the Great Danes, recording 14 strikeouts on her 77 total pitches. The win improved her to a 21-1 overall record. Verdolivo only threw two strikeouts over the course of her 104 pitches.
“Celeste pitched a great game against a really good hitting team, and I’m proud of the way that we competed,” Albany head coach Chris Cannata said.
Oregon will switch to pitcher Megan Kleist for their second-round game against the Drake Bulldogs Friday afternoon at Jane Sanders Stadium.
Follow Maggie Vanoni on Twitter: @maggie_vanoni