How Oregon lost: Another incredible season in the books for the No. 3 Oregon Ducks softball team that was supposively a "rebuilding season" for the Ducks. It came to a close at the Women's College World Series against the No. 10 Oklahoma Sooners in the semifinals. We've seen it all season long. Teams can get hot at any time and on any out in the game of softball. Teams have to be on their toes at all times. The Ducks did just that all throughout the post-season, making comeback after comeback in both the regionals and super regionals, but not this time. It just so happened to fall on Oklahoma in the fifth inning. A four-run, three-hit fifth inning for the Sooners sends the defending National Champion Sooners to back-to-back WCWS final appearances and will face the No. 1 Florida Gators.
The Ducks fall to the Sooners 4-2.
What it means: The Oregon Ducks have quite the amount of talent and depth on their roster. According to their roster, the Ducks will only graduate seniors Danica Mercado (right-fielder), Nikki Udria (shortstop), and Sammie Puentas (outfielder). Of their starting lineup, Mercado (leadoff) and Udria (fourth) will be big hits, but head coach Mike White has a young team that can fill the holes. Being that this team is composed of primarily underclassmen, and a pitching staff of one sophomore and two freshmen, this team isn't going anywhere anytime soon.
Oregon pitching: Nothing but composure, composure, and more composure coming from sophomore pitcher Megan Kleist. The Sooners are one of those teams that aren't afraid to swing at the first pitch making it necessary for Kleist to get acclimated quickly. Kleist threw five and two-thirds innings, allowing four runs, two earned runs, six hits, one walk and two strikeouts, until relieved by freshman Miranda Elish.
Oregon defense: The Ducks defense proved to be calm under the pressure of Oklahoma not struggling to get on base. Lilley, Udria, Lindvall, and Camuso in the infield were a solid force behind Kleist, making smart decisions to be sure to get the out with Sooners' runners in scoring position, and finishing the game with two errors.
However, Oklahoma caught fire in the fifth inning. A controversial call started it all on a Sooners bunt that seemed to not leave the batters box but was called fair caused a throwing error from junior catcher Gwen Svekis down the first base line and the Sooners to take an extra base to second.
One out, Sooners runners on second and third, and the Big 12 Player of the Year Shay Knighten walking confidently to the plate. First pitch swing, she pops it over shallow into right field scoring two and Oklahoma gets its first lead of the game 3-2. It didn't stop their for the Sooners. Oregon struggled to get outs, trying to stop runner from advancing rather than the "easy out" on first, and the Sooners capitalized on these opportunities. Oklahoma finishes the inning with four runs, three hits, one Oregon error, and one base runner left on.
Oregon offense: Oklahoma pitch Paige Parker did not make it easy on Oregon. Parker's rise ball is thrown hard and located in a spot that tempted several Ducks causing popups and easy outs. Both teams didn't necessarily struggle to get on base, but bringing runners home was difficult with already one or two outs across the board.
That is until senior Danica Mercado stepped up to the plate in the top of the fifth inning. The senior, with the Ducks in a must-win situation, calmly sends a Parker rise ball over right field and rounded the bases following junior Jenna Lilley who reached on base on a single the batter before. This gave Oregon a 2-0 lead.
This isn't unlikely normal for Mercado, who is known for her slap hit and bunting as the leadoff batter for the Ducks, but she is strong and good at reading pitches with her .358 batting average.
What was seeming like another cinderella, last-chance comeback for Oregon, which we've seen time and time again this post-season, fell short this time.