On McArthur Court, a vertical banner faces the entrance of Oregon’s home softball stadium. On it, senior shortstop Nikki Udria towers over the sidewalk with the words “Be power, be poise, be the atmosphere,” at her feet.
It would be hard to find a player who takes the slogan more seriously than Udria. The senior from Covina, California, is Oregon’s best offensive player and reached base in 43 consecutive games until Sunday’s 2-1 win over Florida State. Udria can always be counted on when the Ducks’ offense is struggling.
“[Udria] is this consistent force,” Oregon head coach Mike White said. “She has some bad at-bats like everybody does, but she just comes in the next time and drives some runs in. … She is our leader, for sure.”
Udria has the second highest batting average at .415, but she is first on the team in home runs, RBIs, slugging percentage, hits and on-base percentage. She is top-10 in the Pac-12 in batting average, slugging percentage, on-base percentage, runs scored and hits.
She is a key part to an offense that finds itself struggling at times. Midway through the Pac-12 season, Oregon played a particularly tough stretch of opponents: No. 9 UCLA, No. 12 Washington and No. 3 Arizona. During the stretch, the Ducks were shut out three times and only scored two or three runs on multiple occasions.
After an extra-inning loss to Washington, White said he felt like he was talking to a rock when talking to his players. The only person he praised — Udria.
“Udria was our best hitter the whole weekend, but other than that we really struggled to get some offensive production going,” he said.
Entering the season, Udria had already accumulated numerous accolades. Last season, she was a first team All-Pac-12 selection and was named a second team All-American. This season, she is one of 34 finalists for USA Softball National Player of the Year, along with Oregon pitcher Maggie Balint.
Udria credits practicing against Oregon’s quality pitchers as a reason for her success. In Balint, Miranda Elish and Megan Kleist, the Ducks have some of the best pitchers in the country to face in practice. Udria wants to take advantage of their individual unique pitching style in practice to prepare her for the pitchers she’ll face throughout the season.
“Being able to make those in-scrimmage adjustments, whether you’re facing a rise-ball pitcher or a down-ball pitcher. … we really benefit from the live situations we get from them,” Udria said.
With the success of the season, Udria is rocketing into the top of the Oregon record book. She is currently third in career runs with 184, just 20 away from the school record, third in career RBIs and fourth in hits.
Weeks ago, Udria was drafted with the 18th overall pick in the National Pro Fastpitch draft by the Scrap Yard Dogs, joining former Oregon teammate and roommate Cheridan Hawkins. The team plays in Houston, Texas.
Going forward, Oregon needs Udria to be the spark that leads this team through the postseason. The Ducks need her to be powerful, poised and create the atmosphere.
Follow Jack Butler on Twitter @Butler917