AUSTIN, Texas – They say home field advantage matters. They would be right.
That’s why forcing a team like Oregon to travel to Texas was an issue we addressed with the NCAA Softball Tournament Selection Committee chair and North Dakota State University Athletic Director Matt Larsen on the James Crepea Show. It was an issue the rest of the Pac 12 Softball teams also had an issue with across the board when it came to, yet again, the Pac 12 Conference as a whole getting questionable seeding in an NCAA tournament.
As the Oregon Ducks see its 2021 season come to an end at the NCAA Austin Regional, it’s not just making up excuses to point out the disadvantage it put the team when regular season effectiveness normally affords such a team better circumstances than being sent to Texas for Regionals. It’s from that perspective that we view the whole of what happened to the Oregon softball team after a whirlwind day that saw the Ducks walk-off to force a deciding game before falling in game two.
“I’m so proud of this team,” Head Coach Melyssa Lombardi said after the game. “Just to watch them transform from the beginning of the year to now, I can’t say enough. My heart hurts because they were right there, and I want them to get what they want, but we just fell short.”
The Ducks first endured a five-hour rain delay prior to the start of game one, then proceeded to walk-off in extra innings for a 3-2 win after giving up a lead in the seventh inning. Oregon ultimately fell in the winner-take-all second game, 1-0, in a contest that went into the early morning in Austin.
“I can’t tell you how unbelievably proud I am of the fight and the will and how hard they want to play for each other and play for Oregon,” Lombardi said.
Game 1: Oregon 3, Texas 2 (8)
In an instant classic, Terra McGowan delivered a walk-off single in the bottom of the eighth inning to force the winner-take-all game between Oregon and Texas in a 3-2 win for the Ducks.
The Ducks were just one strike away from finishing things off in the seventh, but Texas’ Courtney Day delivered an RBI triple to center field that was just out of the reach of UO center fielder Deijah Pangilinan to tie things up. UO starters Brooke Yanez would strand the runner at third to keep things knotted up.
After Oregon didn’t score in the seventh and Yanez stranded a leadoff single in the top of the eighth, the Ducks brought the top of the order up to start the eighth. Haley Cruse set the table with a double to right field before Allee Bunker worked a walk to bring up McGowan with no outs. She swung at the first pitch and sent it to the base of the wall in right field to score Cruse and cap off the thrilling win.
Alyssa Brito put the Ducks on the board first, crushing a leadoff homer to left field to begin the bottom of the second.
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Oregon doubled its lead in the fourth, putting together a two-out rally to make it 2-0. Shaye Bowden fought back from down 0-2 in the count to work a walk, before Haley Cruse singled to center to put runners at first and second. Bunker cashed in with a clutch base knock just over the head of the second baseman to drive in pinch-runner Ariel Carlson.
Texas answered with a two-out rally of its own to cut the Ducks’ lead to 2-1. After Camille Corona reached on a bunt single, Janae Jefferson drove her in with an RBI double. Yanez would avoid further damage though, getting a flyout to end the inning.
Game 2: Texas 1, Oregon 0
Oregon dropped another pitchers’ duel in game two of the regional final doubleheader, falling to Texas 1-0 in a winner-take-all game that went deep into the night.
After the thrilling finish to game one, the two teams came out sluggish offensively in a game that was scoreless headed to the bottom of the fourth.
Texas broke through in the bottom of the fourth for the game’s only run as Jordyn Whitaker delivered a pinch-hit RBI single with two outs in the inning. That chased Oregon starter Samaria Diaz, who was stellar over her 3.2 innings prior to that, as Makenna Kliethermes came on and got the final out of the inning to minimize the damage.
Kliethermes pitched around trouble again in the fifth, stranding a pair of two-out singles, before Brooke Yanez entered to pitch the sixth and worked a 1-2-3 inning to give the Ducks a chance in the top of the seventh.
The Ducks got their first two batters on, after Rachel Cid led off with a double and Hanna Delgado reached on an infield hit. However, Oregon wouldn’t score as a strikeout and a pair of groundouts ended the game.
Season at a glance: Oregon reached 40 wins in a season for the 14th time in school history … Yanez finished the season with the third-most strikeouts in a year in school history with 268 … Her total trails only Cheridan Hawkins, who holds the top two spots on the list … Her complete game win in game one was her 14th of the season … Cruse ends her incredible career hitting .378, good for fifth-best in program history … She is also the only player in Oregon history to lead the team in hitting four straight years – no other player has done it more than twice … Oregon’s walk-off win in game one was its fourth of the season … It was also McGowan’s second walk-off hit of the year.