Heartbreak Ends Pac-12 Tournament Appearance

By Rob Moseley


STANFORD, Calif. — They were one out away. And then the game got away.

Despite an uneven performance, the Oregon softball team was in position to advance Thursday at the Pac-12 Tournament, before a late rally gave Utah a 7-4 victory at Stanford’s Smith Family Stadium. The Ducks rallied to tie the game in the fifth and took the lead in the sixth before the Utes scored four times in the seventh.

“We did not do enough — offense, defense, pitching,” UO coach Melyssa Lombardi said. “You’re in postseason play; you can’t play OK and expect to win. And even with us not playing our best ball, we were one out away from winning that game.”

The Ducks (28-19) took the lead in the bottom of the sixth when Ariel Carlson scored on an error. Utah led off the seventh with two singles before UO pitcher Morgan Scott retired the next two hitters. But a passed ball brought in the tying run, and two batters later the Utes hit a go-ahead three-run home run.

“Things are going to happen in a game,” Lombardi said. “We talk about covering each other when things don’t go our way, and we didn’t cover enough. And we didn’t strike enough when we had opportunities to strike, and that’s why we’re on this side of it.”

How It Happened: The Ducks got the start they wanted. Elise Sokolsky took the circle four days after her shutout of Stanford clinched the No. 3 seed for Oregon in the conference tournament, and she pitched around a two-out single in the first.

In the bottom of the first, Oregon went up 1-0 on consecutive one-out doubles by Carlson and Emma Kauf — the latter recording her 58th career two-base hit. Three batters later, Vallery Wong singled to plate Kauf, and the lead was 2-0.

“I loved how we set the tone — we talked about setting the tone early in the game,” Lombardi said. “And from there we had opportunities again and just didn’t come through. We had opportunities to open the game up early and we didn’t, and that hurt us.”

After Sokolsky stranded runners at the corners in the second, the Ducks created a chance to add on. Paige Sinicki walked with one out and stole second — remaining perfect on 12 stolen-base attempts this season — before taking third on a Kai Luschar single. Carlson walked to load the bases, but Kauf grounded back to the pitcher, who started an inning-ending double play.

That left the door open for Utah, and the Utes took advantage. They closed within 2-1 in the third, following a two-out single with an RBI double to make it a one-run game. Then, in the fifth, Utah took the lead when two UO errors led to two runs and ended Sokolsky’s outing.

“I thought Elise threw pretty well,” Lombardi said. “She gave us what we needed.”

The Ducks had a response this time. Carlson doubled to lead off the bottom of the fifth, her 28th extra-base hit of the season to tie Missy Coe (1999) for sixth in UO single-season history. Carlson then took third on a passed ball before Kauf reached on a fielder’s choice and Katie Flannery walked.

That loaded the bases with nobody out, but Oregon got only one run, when Carlson scored on an error.

After Utah again left runners stranded at the corners in the sixth, this time off Scott (9-8), the Ducks retook the lead. It came in the form of a two-out rally, as Luschar walked and stole second, Carlson walked to reach base for the fourth time in four plate appearances and Kauf followed with a soft line drive to left that was misplayed.

Luschar came around with the go-ahead run, though Carlson was thrown out at the plate to end the inning. Luschar leads the Pac-12 with 27 steals and 46 runs this spring.

For a few minutes, that looked like it would be enough. Utah’s first two hitters in the seventh reached on infield singles, but a sacrifice bunt and a groundball out put Oregon one out away from advancing to Friday’s semifinals. A passed ball tied the game, though, and the three-run homer broke it open.

Flannery walked to lead off the bottom of the seventh, and Wong was hit by a pitch with one out. But they were left stranded when the next two UO hitters struck out.

Up Next: The field for the NCAA Regional round will be announced Sunday (4 p.m., ESPN2).

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