The Pac-12 champion Oregon softball team will host Albany, BYU and Drake at the Eugene Regional for the first round of the Women’s College World Series starting Thursday.
The Ducks own the No. 1 ranking and the pressure packaged with it.
“[We’re] just taking it day by day,” center fielder Shannon Rhodes said. “I don’t think we really paid attention too much to the polls before … We don’t really drink our own Kool-Aid in this situation. We’re just kicking it — playing some softball.”
Head coach Mike White stressed the game-by-game approach, quickly brushing aside the noise of having the one-seed. The team is focused on No. 64 seed Albany.
With little film on the Great Danes, Oregon is going in less prepared than it normally would.
“[White] is trying to make us prepare more of what we need to do, rather focusing on what they do,” senior shortstop DJ Sanders said. “That’s all we can do at this point.”
Albany, the America East conference champions, has an overall record of 32-14 and is 13-4 on the road, which helps as the team will be playing 3,000 miles away from home.
“My grandfather told me, ‘You always want to bet on a racehorse that travels the most because they are not coming just to lose,’” White said. “They are gonna come out here and give it their best effort.”
Albany’s ace, Celeste Verdolivo, has a 1.73 ERA in 121.1 innings and 16 complete games this season. She also had a perfect game in the 2016 season. Offensively, Albany is a contact-heavy team. Catcher Chelsea Henige leads the team with a .366 batting average and only three strikeouts this season. Designated hitter Kelly Barkevich leads the team with nine home runs but 34 strikeouts.
BYU and Drake give Oregon a little more film to work with. White is aware of both teams’ stellar pitching, highlighting Drake’s Nicole Newman.
Newman has a 0.62 ERA in 146 innings and headlines a staff of three pitchers with a sub-two ERA. Offensively, Drake’s Tasha Alexander and Kallee Smith lead the team with five home runs. Right fielder Macy Johnson and shortstop Mandi Roemmich are both hitting over .350.
The Ducks are most familiar with BYU. Although the Ducks are 2-0 against the Cougars, including a 1-0 win last season, none of the current Oregon players have a career hit against them. Miranda Elish and Maggie Balint combined for the shutout win and Alexis Mack scored the lone run.
“I think last year they were probably one of the better pitching staffs we saw,” Rhodes said. “It’s really exciting to have them come back and face them again.”
Kerisa Viramontes will head the BYU pitching staff with her 2.05 ERA and catcher Libby Sugg leads the team in the triple-crown categories with a .423 average, 11 home runs and 64 RBIs.
Overall, the Ducks feel they should have no problem moving on to the Super Regionals as long as they play the brand of softball they have excelled with all season.
“Just looking at who we faced this year, we shouldn’t be surprised by anybody,” White said. “But we gotta make sure we play our best.”
Follow Maverick Pallack on Twitter @mavpallack