Top-ranked Oregon softball team determined to get off to faster start at Women's College World Series
The Oregon softball program is preparing to take another swing at its first national championship, but this time coach Mike White doesn't want to have to use a mulligan too early in Oklahoma City.
White is hoping his top-seeded team will play with the sense of urgency at Women's College World Series that the Ducks demonstrated while facing elimination in back-to-back super regional wins last weekend at Jane Sanders Stadium.
Oregon has a history of getting off to poor starts in double-elimination bracket play at the WCWS.
In three of the previous four appearances under White, the Ducks lost their first game in Oklahoma City to a familiar Pac-12 foe -- 3-1 to Arizona State in 2012, 7-1 to UCLA in 2015 and 3-1 to Washington last year.
In 2014, when the Ducks did open with a 3-0 win over Florida State, they dropped their next game to Florida and were eventually eliminated by Alabama.
Oregon opens the WCWS against No. 8 Arizona State on Thursday at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium (9 a.m., ESPN).
"Truthfully, it's the first two games. You've got to get through to Sunday with two lives. That's what it is about," White said Monday before the team took a charter from breezy Eugene to muggy Oklahoma City. "We've got to do that if we want to have a chance to win this thing. It's too difficult to come through the loser's bracket against that quality competition.
"We have to win the first two."
Oregon lost 9-6 to Kentucky in the first game of the NCAA Eugene Super Regional before outscoring the Wildcats 17-2 over the next two days to advance.
Pac-12 pitcher of the year Megan Kleist (21-6, 1.14 ERA), who gave up seven runs in Game 1, will have had a full week to stew over her worst outing of an otherwise brilliant season in the circle.
White could also choose to start Miranda Elish (24-1, 0.89 ERA), who allowed two runs (one earned) over 12 innings in Games 2 and 3.
"I feel confident that Kleist will be a lot better coming out next time out. I'm sure she can't wait to get the ball in her hands and get back out there," White said. "Of course, Elish is riding a pretty good high right now. ... I'm going to have a short leash, whoever starts. Sometimes it's just not your day, and I don't think I can wait to see what happens. If it's not on, it's not on.
"I'm going to take a quick look and try to gauge it as quickly as I can and make some adjustments quickly if I have to."
The Sun Devils (48-11) will almost certainly give the ball to ace Gisele "G" Juarez (26-4, 0.91 ERA), who went 1-1 against Oregon starting opposite Kleist in the regular season.
"We had success of her the first time and not so much the second time," senior third baseman Jenna Lilley said. "It's good that we've played her in the past. We've just got to go in using our history against her to help us. She's a great pitcher, so it will be a good matchup."
If the Ducks can beat Arizona State they will face the winner of No. 4 Oklahoma and No. 5 Washington at 4 p.m. Friday.
Oregon was eliminated by the two-time defending national champion Sooners in the WCWS semifinals last year but beat them 5-0 this season. Kleist allowed one hit in that matchup at Jane Sanders Stadium.
The Ducks swept the rival Huskies in Seattle en route to the program's fifth Pac-12 championship in the past six years.
"We were talking about how this year feels so different because we've played the majority of the teams, we've beaten the majority of the teams," senior catcher Gwen Svekis said. "In the past it has felt more like, 'Oh gosh, I hope we don't get X, Y or Z, because we haven't played them, we don't know what they're like.' This year it's more, 'OK, I don't care who you throw at me.'
"We have the confidence we can go out there and compete with anyone."
The Ducks will practice in Stillwater, Okla., on Tuesday and at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium on Wednesday. The forecast calls for temperatures exceeding 100 degrees in Oklahoma City throughout the WCWS.
"Every time we get to go is so special and so unique, the path we take to get there," Lilley said. "Each year is its own memory, and I can't wait for this one."
If Oregon loses to Arizona State it will face elimination against the Oklahoma-Washington loser on Saturday.
"I think the most important part would be winning the first game," Svekis said. "If you don't win the first game, it is really hard to come back. It doesn't matter how good your team is, how good your pitching staff is.
"I think the first game is going to be the most important game, and then we'll move on from there and see how it goes."
This article is written by Ryan Thorburn from The Register-Guard, Eugene, Ore. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.