May 27, 2016
by Rob Moseley
Photo: Eric Evans
EUGENE, Ore. — A year ago, Oregon won its regular-season series with UCLA before losing in the postseason to the Bruins.
This weekend, the Ducks have a chance to turn the tables.
The No. 5 UO softball team will host No. 12 UCLA in an NCAA Super Regional series Saturday and Sunday at Jane Sanders Stadium. First pitch Saturday is at 6:30 p.m. on ESPN; the two teams will meet again Sunday at 4 p.m. on ESPNU, and then again later in the evening if a tiebreaking third game is necessary.
The Pac-12 champion Ducks (47-8) and conference runnerup Bruins (38-13-1) each swept through regional play with three straight wins last week. They met in the regular season at Jane Sanders Stadium to open April, when UCLA ended Oregon’s 18-game win streak by taking two of three.
UCLA played sparkling defense all weekend, and confounded Oregon’s hitters. The Ducks seemed out of sorts all weekend, committing six errors in the one game they did win, and playing without third baseman and leadoff hitter Jenna Lilley due to injury.
“They’re a great team; you can’t take that away from them,” UO catcher Janelle Lindvall said. “But on top of that, we did not play near to our potential. Going into this weekend, that’s nice to know.”
The Bruins beat Oregon to open the Women’s College World Series a year ago. Their wins in Eugene this season enabled the Ducks’ first Pac-12 series loss since 2013.
“We just didn’t seem to be ourselves,” UO coach Mike White said. “But there’s a lot of things we learned from that as well. And one is, we can’t play poorly and expect to beat one of the best teams in the country.”
The Ducks will undoubtedly benefit from the presence this weekend of Lilley. She couldn’t even attend the opener of Oregon’s regular-season series with UCLA after undergoing treatment for facial fractures suffered when Lilley was hit by a pitch a week earlier. Lilley was in the dugout for the final two games, watching in street clothes.
Lilley led the Ducks in on-base percentage during Pac-12 play this season at .522. White called a hit-and-run with Lilley last week in regionals in part to keep her from being too selective in the leadoff spot, but Lilley says she hasn’t adjusted her approach much since moving to the top of the lineup.
“You don’t want to change too much,” she said. “Just do your thing, play to your strengths.”
Lilley had ample opportunity to hit with runners on base last week, given the production from Alyssa Gillespie at the bottom of the order. The senior from Hillsboro was 7-for-8 with five runs and four RBIs against Fordham and Baylor.
Gillespie showed off bunting prowess reminiscent of recent UO great Courtney Ceo. That’s a huge asset in a new offensive approach the Ducks have embraced this postseason, eschewing the home runs that powered them through the regular season.
In 10 innings against Baylor ace Heather Stearns in regionals, the Ducks manufactured runs in all but two.
“We’ve always had a lot of power hitters, but against the best pitching and better teams, you’ve gotta find a way to score runs,” Lindvall said. “I personally love that we only scored one or two runs an inning against Stearns last weekend. That’s really going to help us in the postseason.”
In another difference for Oregon since the regular-season series with UCLA, ace Cheridan Hawkins seems to have found her form. In her last nine starts, Hawkins is 9-0 with a 0.39 ERA and 66 strikeouts with seven walks.
“We’re a different team than we were then, in a lot of ways,” Lilley said. “I think we’ve grown and learned a lot since then.”