It took Oregon four innings to get pitcher Miranda Elish the lead last night.
It was a different story tonight as the Ducks scored seven runs in the second inning, highlighted by Shannon Rhodes’ leadoff home run and a DJ Sanders grand slam. The inning’s seven runs were more than the Ducks have scored in any single game this postseason.
The No. 1 Oregon Ducks defeated No. 16 Kentucky 11-1 Saturday, earning a trip to the Women’s College World Series.
“We were fortunate enough to get a great performance today with the bats,” head coach Mike White said. “Another tremendous performance from Miranda Elish on the mound. … Fortunately, we gave her some support and she did a great job.”
Elish retook the circle after getting the win last night, in Oregon’s first win of the best-of-three series. The ace threw a complete game and struck out seven and followed that performance with another dominant win.
Saturday, the sophomore struck out seven over five innings, allowing only one earned run. Although she was given an insurmountable lead, she did not let that affect her mindset, wanting to finish the game off effectively.
“[Having a big lead] is really nice,” Elish said. “But you can’t let it get to your head too much because you don’t want to lose focus.”
Sanders’ grand slam helped earn her first-ever trip to the College World Series, after missing out the last couple of years with Louisiana.
“I guess that was really my reason for making the move,” Sanders said. “At the end of the day, I knew I wanted to get a chance to play at OKC, so I think this just validated my decision to leave.”
It was also the final home game for Oregon senior softball staples. Jenna Lilley, Lauren Lindvall and Gwen Svekis played their final game in Jane Sanders Stadium.
“It’s the worst thing ever, to say goodbye to the seniors,” White said. “They put so much heart and soul into the program. … It’s something you don’t want to think about, and I didn’t think about it.”
Lilley went 2-3 with two RBIs and a run scored, including an RBI single for the second run of the second inning. Svekis went 2-2 with two RBIs and two runs scored. She also hit her first triple since her freshman season, which scored Alexis Mack and Sanders.
This game was also the last home game for the dedicated Oregon crowd. The always intense fanbase was as loud as ever, garnering praise from Kentucky head coach Rachel Lawson and White.
One particular moment that exemplified the fans’ love for their team was when the entire crowd sang Cruse “Happy Birthday” pregame, and then again chanted it when she doubled Svekis home.
“Our fans. … just crazy fans,” White said. “That’s a fun atmosphere.”
Oregon joins UCLA, Washington, Arizona State, Oklahoma, Georgia, Florida and the winner of Florida State and LSU as teams to punch their tickets to Oklahoma City. The Women’s College World Series will start May 31 and run through June 5 and 6 at the USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium.
“Somebody pinch me,” White said with tears in his eyes. “This is my wildest dreams that we would come out and score that many runs. It’s just a tremendous achievement.”
Follow Maverick Pallack on Twitter: @Mavpallack