There’s a feeling of deja vu for Oregon softball this weekend as the No. 1 Ducks host the No. 16 seed Kentucky Wildcats at Jane Sanders Stadium in the NCAA Super Regionals for the second straight year.
Last season, No. 3 Oregon got by the No. 19 Wildcats in the minimum two games, as the Ducks beat Kentucky 4-0 and 6-5 behind the pitching of Megan Kleist and Miranda Elish, a dominant paring Oregon will likely toss in the circle again for this season’s matchup. But head coach Mike White hinted that he could even play Kleist in back-to-back games.
“You never know what I’ll do,” White said. “Sometimes I go back there and make crazy decisions. I do have that possibility of running her back-to-back but with the way that Miranda’s throwing, there’s no way to think about that.”
Kleist was one out away from pitching a perfect game in the second game of the Eugene Regional this past weekend. Elish pitched 14 scoreless innings for the Ducks, which did not allow a run over the entire weekend.
The Ducks got big production from freshman Lauren Burke, who hit two, two-run home runs as a pinch hitter. Oregon’s small-ball game also added to the power from Burke in each of its wins.
Against Kentucky last season, Oregon scored all of its runs from no more than a single. That small-ball play helped advance the Ducks to the Women’s College World Series, which Oregon will look to do again by the end of the weekend.
Kentucky won via run-rule in each of its three games during the Lexington Regional this past weekend, beating Illinois-Chicago once and Notre Dame twice to advance to the Super Regional.
“They’re athletic,” White said. “They’re just really good team and I think it’s a tough matchup.”
This season, Kentucky brings seven players hitting above .300 and three pitchers with more than 20 appearances each.
Freshman Grace Baalman has a 13-8 record with a 2.28 ERA while Kentucky’s ace, Erin Rethlake possesses an 11-4 record with a 2.77 ERA. Rethlake pitched in the Wildcats’ Regional opener and closer while Baalman threw five shutout innings in a 10-0 game two win for Kentucky over Notre Dame.
“Their pitching is maybe something we can get after if you look at their numbers,” White said. “But still, their freshman Baalman is doing a good job for them and has faced some pretty good teams.”
The Wildcats’ pitchers let up only one run over the Regional this year. That run, which was unearned, came in a 10-1 five-inning game against Illinois-Chicago in game one.
Kentucky had productivity from all over the roster during the Regional, with eight different players batting in runs, including pitcher Rethlake. Pinch hitter Rachael Metzger had the best weekend among Kentucky batters, tallying seven RBI over the weekend, hitting 2-for-2, to bring her season total to 14 RBI.
“They hit balls hard and they hit mistakes so I think our defense needs to be ready to make those SportsCenter Top-10 plays that make or break a season,” Svekis said.
The series, which starts at 6 p.m. on Thursday, could go one of two ways: a true pitchers’ duel, or a run-filled weekend.
“They gave us a run for our money last year and we expect just as much of a dog fight this year,” Svekis said.
Follow Shawn Medow on Twitter @ShawnMedow