Oregon’s Shannon Rhodes singled off Kentucky pitcher Grace Baalman to load the bases in a scoreless, one-out top of the fourth inning. The Wildcats decided not to risk it and brought in pitcher Erin Rethlake to face freshman Lauren Burke.
With a smooth stroke on a 3-1 count, Burke knocked the ball straight up the middle gap to center field, where Kentucky’s Brooklin Hinz retrieved the ball but overshot her throw to third. The Ducks’ two runs from Burke’s single increased to three runs on the error, causing some heated discussions between coaches and umpires on whether the third run should count.
“Mike [White] does an exceptional job of going in there and getting in the middle of umpires and kind of getting things to go his way,” Kentucky head coach Rachel Lawson said.
Burke’s heroics, which are becoming the norm after two home runs in Regionals, led the No. 1 Ducks (51-8) to a season-saving 6-1 win over No. 16 seed Kentucky (35-20) in game two of the Super Regionals on Friday night at Jane Sanders Stadium. Miranda Elish pitched a two-hit game over the seven innings, setting up a rubber match on Saturday to decide who gets a place in the Women’s College World Series.
“You could tell we were fighting for our lives,” head coach Mike White said. “That’s what we had to do with our backs up against the wall.”
Burke’s big postseason thus far earned her the start at designated player, and now the Eugene native possess a 6-of-8 batting record with seven RBIs to add to her two home runs after Friday’s win.
“We talk about empty head, full bat — she just doesn’t feel it,” White said. “That’s what’s going to make her a great hitter in years to come. She just wants to go swing the bat.”
She got some support when Mia Camuso batted her in for a 4-0 lead before Kentucky earned a run on a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the fourth.
But just one inning later, senior third baseman Jenna Lilley brought the game out of reach for the Wildcats by adding another pair of runs on a two-RBI double that she lined up the middle to make it 6-1.
On the defense side, Lilley had just one bloop during the fifth inning, which saw Oregon surrender its only run. The rest of the Ducks fielders didn’t have much work to do with Elish dueling from the circle.
Elish struck out seven and had a perfect game through three innings before allowing the only hits of the game in the fourth. She also clocked several pitches over 71 miles per hour.
“She was pounding the zone pretty hard,” Kentucky second baseman Alex Martens said. “She was just moving around, mixing it up a lot and that kind of kept us off balance.”
The Ducks and Wildcats will square off at 6 p.m. at Jane Sanders Stadium to determine who can book a ticket to Oklahoma City and the Women’s College World Series.
“It’s a big game but we’ve got to come do the same thing,” White said. “We’ve got to play it like it’s our last game of the year.”
Follow Shawn Medow on Twitter @ShawnMedow