College softball: No. 5 Oregon sweeps No. 2 Florida State on walk-off sac fly
EUGENE, Ore. — No. 5 Oregon completed a series sweep of No. 2 Florida State on Sunday, with senior Danica Mercado scoring the winning run to give the Ducks a 2-1 win in nine innings in front of another sellout crowd of 2,517 in Jane Sanders Stadium.
The Ducks saw their streak of four straight Pac-12 titles end Sunday, when Arizona clinched the 2017 championship with its win over UCLA. But Oregon (44-6) should be in strong position for the right to host the first two weekends of the postseason after sweeping the Seminoles (48-6-1).
"It's the greatest feeling in the world," said Ducks catcher Gwen Svekis, whose sacrifice fly drove home Mercado. "We had a tight game, and this is when all the preparation against Arizona and Washington and UCLA — tight games, extra-inning games — paid off.
"That's the No. 2 team in the country. It just shows us that we can beat anyone when we play our 'A' game."
How it happened: Mercado led off the bottom of the ninth with a double to left-center and took third on a clutch two-strike sacrifice bunt by Madi Bishop. Svekis followed with a deep drive to center field, more than adequate to bring Mercado in for a walk-off sacrifice fly.
That run made a winner of Maggie Balint (19-3), who was clutch out of the bullpen Sunday after throwing a complete game in Saturday's nightcap. Balint entered with runners on second and third in the eighth, and escaped the jam, then stranded a runner at third in the top of the ninth.
"I love it," Balint said. "That's what I pitch for. … I really like going in with runners on because I can put the team on my back, and it's an opportunity to help another pitcher out."
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The Seminoles (49-5-1) managed only an unearned run off Oregon starter Miranda Elish through seven innings, but for a time that looked like enough. Florida State scored in the second when Carsyn Gordon reached on a fielder's choice, took third on a double to center by Anna Shelnutt and scored when Ducks center fielder Shannon Rhodes bobbled the ball.
— Oregon Duck Softball (@OregonSB) May 8, 2017
But Rhodes atoned for the bobble in the fifth. Seminoles starter Jessia Burroughs was perfect into that inning, until Rhodes reached on a one-out single. Rhodes then stole second and scored on a two-out single to center by Elish. That tied the game 1-1, which remained the score until Oregon's dramatics in the bottom of the ninth.
"For some reason I thought we were a little flat with the bats," Oregon coach Mike White said. "But we did what we had to do at the end — some great, pressure softball. It was good to see us come through in some big situations."
Making them count: Oregon had four hits in the game, three of which led to runs. Rhodes singled and scored in the fifth, Elish's single brought her in and Mercado doubled in the ninth before scoring the winning run. Only Jenna Lilley's leadoff single in the sixth went for naught.
Streak left on deck: Senior Nikki Udria's streak of consecutive games reaching base ended Sunday at 43. Udria was 0-for-3 and was the on-deck batter when Svekis drove in the winning run to end the game.