Oregon softball underclassmen poised for postseason run

Oregon infielder Karine Shaver (8) dives to catch a ball during the top of the sixth inning. No. 6 Oregon (36-5-0) hosts the California Golden Bears (21-17-0) in the third and final game of the series at Howe Field in Eugene, Ore., on April 19, 2014. (Andrew Seng/Emerald)

Oregon infielder Karine Shaver (8) dives to catch a ball during the top of the sixth inning. No. 6 Oregon (36-5-0) hosts the California Golden Bears (21-17-0) in the third and final game of the series at Howe Field in Eugene, Ore., on April 19, 2014. (Andrew Seng/Emerald)

Posted by Hayden Kim on Sunday, Apr. 20 at 8:54 pm.

The Oregon softball team (40-5, 14-1 Pac-12) has arguably had its best season in program history. In addition to their first-ever No. 1 ranking, the Ducks have also picked up marquee wins against top five opponents.

While the Ducks can attribute much of their success to the veteran leadership of Courtney Ceo, Alexa Peterson and Kailee Cuico, the underclassmen, led by Cheridan Hawkins and Alyssa Gillespie, have separated the Ducks from the rest.

“(This season) has exceeded my expectations,” freshman infielder Sammie Puentes said. “Coming in as a freshman I didn’t imagine this. It’s overwhelming, but it’s a great experience.”

Moving toward the end of the season, the underclassmen will likely continue to make the difference — especially through Hawkins’ pitching and Gillespie’s batting.

“Our freshmen class, we’re very close with each other,” freshman outfielder Lexy Beaudrie-Pierson said. “We all get along and I think we all bring a lot to the table to this team.”

Heading into the season, many of the underclassmen didn’t envision having this much of an impact. Many were unsure what their roles would be, but their concerns quickly turned into production on the field. A lot of this had to do with veteran mentoring — which has equated to a speedy maturation process.

“The game is so much faster, the pace is just so much quicker, the mindset is just so much more different and the failures are just so much more drastic,” freshman outfielder Nikki Udria said about college softball. “I think with Alexa, Courtney and Kailee, they’ve just been around Coach White for so long and he develops this different aspect of the game that you learn from. Having them explain it to us in terms we understand — not from a coach, but from a player’s perspective — helps us greatly.”

For the Ducks and their underclassmen, this year’s success is because of the culture they have built in the past few years. Making the College World Series has been the goal since day one and the team — especially the underclassmen — have shown its desire to avenge last season’s loss to Nebraska at home in the Super Regionals.

“As an underclassman, it’s been really exciting to come in here, know your role, take responsibility of it and just do what you can to provide for the team,” Udria said. “I think we’ve done a great job, whether it’s on the field cheering for our teammates or just being in the moment. We understand the traditions that Oregon softball has.”

The underclassmen are poised to do what they can to bring a title to Oregon. Their potential is among the best in the country and it will come down to whether or not they can piece it together when it matters most. They may be freshmen and sophomores, but their play is beyond their years.

“We just have to know we can’t expect too much of ourselves because ultimately this game is a game of failure,” Udria said. “We just have to accept that we are young, but we need to do our roles when called upon. The game doesn’t know the age.”

Follow Hayden Kim on Twitter @HayDayKim