May 23, 2010

ATLANTA - The No. 20-ranked University of Oregon softball team (36-19) dug down for dramatic 4-3, eight-inning victory over the NCAA tournament's eighth overall seed Georgia Tech (51-11) Sunday afternoon at Mewborn Field to earn its first Super Regional trip since 1989.

The Ducks won their sixth extra-inning contest of the season thanks to a combined team effort that slowed one of the nation's top offenses, made only one error in the weekend's three contests, and offensively frustrated one of the nation's top freshman pitchers.

"This was a team win in every way," Oregon head coach Mike White said. "We had our backs against the wall and responded time and time again. One of the TV announcers said we scored 11 runs this inning with two outs, and that's a tribute to the players. Jess (Moore) pitched her heart out, and then Mikayla (Endicott) came in and finished it off. Defensively, our players stepped up and played great, and I said if they can do that we can beat anyone. The little things in games like bunts, hitting cut-off's, running the bases smart, make all the difference."

Temperatures on the muggy, 85-degree day in downtown Atlanta were only hotter, thanks to the nationally-televised ESPN coverage, and a partisan crowd that wanted revenge after a Duck 11-2 win Saturday.

Early in the game, Oregon and Tech each scored a run in the second and third innings, respectively, before UO went back ahead 3-1 in the fourth inning,

The ACC regular season and tournament champion Yellow Jackets, however, came back to tie the game in the seventh inning, 3-3, and still had the bases loaded with only one out and the team's fifth and sixth hitters coming up.

That's when sophomore reliever Mikayla Endicott (4-2) entered the game and ended the threat with a strikeout swinging and looking, respectively.

"This was biggest game of my life," Endicott said, "but I tried to do what Coach said and take it one pitch at a time, and hit my spots. We came in here ready to fight, and any of our struggles in the past only made us tougher and better. It was a great environment to play in, and I'm so proud of the way Jess pitched before and the play of the rest of our teammates."

The deciding run came in the top of the eighth inning when senior first baseman Carlyn Re opened with a hard single up the middle that just missed the pitcher's head, and senior and pinch-runner Shelley Deadmond advanced to second and third base on a wild pitch and stolen base. Junior catcher Ashley Kivett then came up with one out and hit a deep fly ball to left center field to score the go-ahead run for her second RBI of the game.

"The coaches were awesome, giving us so much information on how to be successful in every situation," Kivett said. "There was so much going on, I tried to slow everything down and focus on the simple things that I had control of. We couldn't have asked for a better game from Jessica, and Mikayla came in and matched her intensity and attitude. This was a special weekend for us, getting to watch the team play together selflesslessly. Coach always says there are two things we can control - effort and attitude - and that's what we focused on."

In the bottom half of the eighth, Endicott continued to hold the Tech hitters at bay and struck out the first two hitters swinging on 1-2 and 0-2 counts, then forced a grounder to the mound in her Pac-10 leading 20th relief appearance of 2010.

For the game, seven Duck batters hit safely, led by freshman lead-off hitter and left fielder Allie Burger's 3-for-5 day, and the Spokane, Wash., native added an RBI on her team-leading fourth triple of the season to tie the sixth-best Duck mark in a season.

In her third start of the weekend at third base (and only fourth this season), junior Monique Fuiava went 2-for-4. Other UO players that hit safely included senior centerfielder Neena Bryant (1-for-3), freshman right fielder Samantha Pappas (1-for-4, 1 RBI), freshman second baseman Kaylan Howard (1-for-3), Re (1-for-3) and Ashley Kivett (1-for-2, 2 RBI).

On the mound, freshman Jessica Moore pitched the first 6.1 innings, struck out six, walked four, gave up eight hits, and all three of her runs allowed were earned. Endicott worked the final 1.2 innings, struck out four of her five batters faced, walked none, and allowed no hits.

The Ducks scored in the second inning thanks to a bases-loaded walk to Ashley Kivett. Fuiava opened the inning with a single to the shorstop, advanced on a sacrifice bunt, then three walks followed to Re, junior designated player Kaitlin Vitek and Kivett.

In the third inning, UO struck again for two runs with two outs when Kivett singled and was followed by Burger's triple off the top of the right field wall, and a single to left field by Bryant.

Georgia Tech's first run came in the third inning, when the national home run leader, Jen Yee, belted her 29th of the season over the right field wall on a 2-1 pitch.

The Yellow Jackets sent the game to extra innings with two runs in the bottom of the seventh inning. The first two batters singled and walked, after a 4-3 out, another single up the middle scored their first run. Moore walked the next hitter, Kelsi Weseman to load the bases and clean-up hitter Kristine Priebe singled for the tying run.

On the mound, Georgia Tech freshman Hope Rush (28-8) struck out three, walked three, allowed five hits, and all four of her runs allowed were earned.

Six Tech batters hit safely, including catcher Kate Kuzma who went 3-for-4 after she entered the game hitting .231. The national offensive leader in seven categories, senior Jen Yee went 1-for-3 (1 RBI).

"I'm so proud of the team," Moore said. "We played our best in the postseason, and our defense was flawless. Our focus was incredible We didn't worry about things we couldn't control, and every day we came out prepared to give our best. I thought my stuff was good today, and I just tried to stay within myself and treat it like another game, although it was the biggest game of the season."

Looking ahead, Super Regional action is set for Friday-Saturday, May 28-29, and more tournament information is available at the website.

The Ducks will likely travel to Columbia, Mo., to face the tourney's No. 9 seed Missouri (48-11) either on Thursday-Friday or Friday-Saturday, May 27-29.