Entering the weekend series with No. 1 UCLA (33-4, 8-3 in Pac-12), no concerns surrounded Oregon softball’s pitching and whether it was good enough to win a national championship. Oregon played a nationally ranked opponent seven times before Friday and held them to an average of 0.86 runs-per-game between the likes of Cheridan Hawkins and Karissa Hovinga in the pitcher’s circle for the Ducks (34-5, 8-1 in Pac-12).
The true concern was if the Ducks would be able to get enough offense to back up the pitching. In those seven games against top competition, Oregon scored 26 runs for an average of 3.71 runs-per-game.
Those concerns have been put to rest, as the Ducks scored 21 runs over the first two games of the series against UCLA pitchers Ally Carda and Jessica Hall.
“They (Carda and Hall) both had sub-one ERAs coming in, so I think we helped them raise that a bit,” Oregon head coach Mike White said, following Sunday’s 6-1 loss to the Bruins.
The Ducks displayed a rare form of skill and power when facing Carda and Hall. They got runners on by being patient at the plate and waiting for their pitches instead of swinging at balls out of the strike zone. Every at-bat had a purpose, and the Ducks executed that purpose in every pitch they saw.
“I think we recognized that we can do that (score a lot of runs) and what we are capable of,” Kailee Cuico said. “We have to settle into those shoes and ride that horse, until we put those runs up.”
Oregon totaled 21 hits in the first two games with eight of those going for extra bases. Time and time again, the Ducks were able to get the first or second runner of the inning on base and advance them into scoring position, whether it be a hit, a sacrifice or a stolen base.
“We had three four-run innings, so I guess four is my lucky number, and I better go buy something today,” White said, after the second game of the series. “I’m extremely proud of the ladies. We were relentless today and we didn’t stop trying to score runs.”
From there, it came down to taking good at-bats and making every swing count in two-out situations. Oregon thrived over the weekend with two outs, scoring 11 runs on six hits with Janelle Lindvall and Cuico, the No. 5 and 6 batters in Oregon’s lineup, supplying four RBIs each.
“We were just really, really comfortable these first couple of days, taking it to them every pitch, every at-bat and every play,” Cuico said.
Courtney Ceo finished the series 6-for-10 with five runs scored, Janie Takeda went 5-for-9 with three runs scored and two RBIs, while Lindvall and Cuico combined for 12 RBIs.
“We believe — at least I believe — that if we play to our potential, we can beat anyone,” Lindvall said. “We just need to focus on our game more. We hit very well, so I think it showed (how good Oregon is).”
After the weekend, the Ducks are in the driver’s seat to become Pac-12 champions and challenge for a national title, something they can thank their offense for.
Follow Ryan Kostecka on Twitter @Ryan_Kostecka