By Michael Kinney
OKLAHOMA CITY — No. 3 Oregon thought it was a fluke.
When they played Washington back in April and lost two of three games, senior Nikki Udria said her Ducks hadn’t played their best and were looking for redemption.
Well, Oregon got its chance on the biggest stage softball has to offer when the two teams met up in the first round of the Women’s College World Series on Thursday. But once again, it was Washington which got the last word with a 3-1 victory at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium.
The loss ended a 15-game win streak for the Ducks and sends them to the loser’s bracket of the WCWS. They will play at 11:30 a.m. Saturday against Baylor. If Oregon loses, the Ducks will be sent home. A win would force a second game Saturday night at 6:30 p.m.
“I just felt like we weren’t aggressive at the right times,” Udria said. “I think we waited a little bit too long to get going and put that pressure on them. I’d like to see us come out on Saturday just ready to go. I felt like it took us a long time to get going today.”
However, the Ducks (52-7)had their chances to steal the game and stay in the winner’s bracket.
Oregon’s Lauren Lindvall led off the bottom of the seventh with a double off the centerfield fence. Jenna Lilley was then hit by a pitch for the second time in the game. That brought Danica Mercado to the plate as the game-tying run.
Mercado hit into a fielder’s choice at second. With runners at first and third, it was pinch-hitter Madi Bishop’s turn. She grounded out to first, bringing home a run and cutting the deficit to 3-1. But Gwen Svekis grounded out to end the game.
“Obviously it’s a game that comes down to inches or opportunities especially, and they made the most of their opportunities and we squandered some of ours,” Oregon coach Mike White said. “I think they played a pretty sharp game in all three facets.”
Megan Kleist pitched a complete game, but took the loss. She gave up three runs and four hits while striking out two batters.
Taran Alvelo picked up the win for Washington (49-12) as she allowed five hits and one run.
Trailing 1-0, Oregon didn’t help its cause when the Ducks were caught trying to steal twice by catcher Morganne Flores in the fourth inning.
“Yeah, it’s a difficult thing to answer because a couple of them were missed signals, and they weren’t supposed to go,” White said. “You hate to divert the blame to your players, but like I said, that becomes blame to me for them not knowing how to read the signals.”
The pitching of Kleist and the Ducks’ defense kept the team in the contest. Udria made a diving catch in the sixth for an out that kept UW from gaining any momentum.
In the bottom of the sixth inning, Sammie Puentes came to bat with runners on first and second with two outs. With the Ducks chances starting to run out, Puentes had an opportunity to tie the score or give the Ducks the lead. However, she grounded out as another scoring opportunity fell apart.
Washington’s Kirstyn Thomas hit a two-run homer in the top of the seventh to provide insurance and what would prove to be the winning margin.
The fact this was the fourth time the two Pac-12 foes have faced off wasn’t a factor, according to the Ducks.
“I don’t really think the mindset really changes,” Kleist said. “Coach White said before the game that seeing them a fourth time you can kind of use to your advantage, kind of know the weakness of each hitter and everything, and I just didn’t capitalize on those big pitches in the right times.”
Michael Kinney is a Freelance Writer