Oregon and Texas set to be an even match in softball super regional

Junior outfielder Samantha Pappas jogs the bases after hitting her seventh homerun of the season in game 2 of the Oregon Ducks' 2 -1 series loss to the Missouri Tigers. (Nate Barrett/Oregon Daily Emerald)

Junior outfielder Samantha Pappas jogs the bases after hitting her seventh homerun of the season in game 2 of the Oregon Ducks' 2 -1 series loss to the Missouri Tigers. (Nate Barrett/Oregon Daily Emerald)

Posted by Lucas Clark on Thursday, May. 24 at 11:27 am.

If there was a turning point in the season for Jessica Moore, it came in the hours following Oregon’s 10-0 home loss to top-ranked California in late April.

The Ducks saw their five-game winning streak snapped by a hard-hitting Golden Bears squad earlier that weekend and had come out, in the end, on the losing side of a Pac-12 series for just the second time all season.

Afterwards, third-year head coach Mike White spoke with his two-time, first-team all-league pitcher about making some mental adjustments to her game. Since then, Oregon has won nine of its last 13 contests to advance to the NCAA Super Regionals for the third straight year.

And now, they will face the No. 6 Texas Longhorns in the first of a best-of-three game series Friday night, which will be televised on ESPN at 6 p.m.

“I’m still waiting for us to play our best game,” White said. “We’ve shown some great games, like against Cal and several others. But for us to put it together in two games out of three this weekend would be great, and I think it’s still ahead of us to have our best game.”

There’s no question Moore (30-12) plays a monumental role in Oregon’s success each time out. She has logged more than 265 innings in the circle to lead all Pac-12 pitchers and was third in the conference with 233 strikeouts in a league-high 46 appearances.

The Sutter, Calif., native pitched all 21 innings of last weekend’s regional and is expected to do the same this weekend in Austin, where she’ll go toe-to-toe with Longhorns starter Blaire Luna.

In two career trips to the Super Regionals — losses to Missouri and Florida — Moore hasn’t been quite as dominant as her regular statistics might suggest. During the four games she’s started and 17 2/3 innings, she’s given up a combined 16 runs on 21 hits while walking seven and striking out 12.

Meanwhile, the Oregon offense plated just three runs during those four games combined. It’s something the Ducks have addressed in practice and is an area in which they seem more confident this season.

“Last year, we relied on just one person to get it done for us,” junior second baseman Kaylan Howard said. “And now we have more people to rely on, and everyone has a job to do. If we just all do our jobs, we’ll be fine.”

The Ducks will need all hands on deck against Luna, a junior righthander and two-time All-American. She holds a 21-5 record in 26 starts this season, while keeping opponents to a .194 batting average. Though she pitched 89 less innings than Moore, she tallied more strikeouts (271) and gave up exactly half as many hits en route to a 2.14 earned run average.

Fortunately, Oregon has been able to score in bunches recently, using big innings in each of its Regional wins over Portland State and Brigham Young. Junior Samantha Pappas raised her team-high average to .414 for the season with a strong outing last weekend. She leads the team in hits (65), doubles (16), triples (2) and stolen bases (19) on the year.

Senior Christie Nieto’s nine home runs this season — including a grand slam in the Regional round — have been a welcome surprise to the Oregon offense. Meanwhile, senior Kelsey Chambers (nine), Kailee Cuico (11) and Howard (12) have matched Nieto’s home run total.

Moore won’t be without a challenge defensively, as Texas also features a trio of double-digit home run hitters in Lexy Bennett (12), Nadia Taylor (10) and Taylor Hoagland (17).

“The big thing for Jess is to get off to a really good start,” White said, “(and) allow us time to get used to facing Luna and to score some runs for her.”