More than 7,000 fans will fill the newly renovated ASA Hall of Fame Stadium when the Women's College World Series comes to Oklahoma City over the next seven days.
Even with an expected capacity crowd on hand and a national ESPN broadcast, Mike White reminds his No. 1 Oregon Ducks that while the stage is bigger, the game remains the same.
VS. FLORIDA STATE
Sixty-foot base paths. Forty-three feet from the mound to home plate. And a 12-inch ball.
"We've just got to take it as it is — it's fun," White said Tuesday morning as the teams boarded a charter bus bound for the Eugene Airport. "We've been ranked No. 1 now for six weeks, and I don't think they blew that out of proportion. Hopefully, we can take this in stride and just go down and play our game."
That's been the general sentiment for the two-time defending Pac-12 champion Ducks over the past few weeks. With a "one pitch at a time" approach, Oregon (54-7-1) looked every bit the No. 1 team in the country during the first two rounds of the NCAA softball tournament.
The Ducks outscored their opponents 40-6 over the last five games to secure a spot in the WCWS for the second time in the past three seasons. As the No. 1 overall seed, Oregon drew No. 8 Florida State in the opening round today. The Seminoles (55-7) won their 12th ACC championship this spring and will make their eighth appearance at the WCWS in school history.
"For some people it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience," UO sophomore Cheridan Hawkins said. "So you definitely want to enjoy it. But you also want to go out with a bang. So I think finding that balance is super important and hopefully we'll be able to do that."
Hawkins, a 33-game winner and the Pac-12 pitcher of the year, played at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium with the USA Junior National team and said she remembered the field well and hopes that will help settle her nerves when she's in the circle today.
Six players return from Oregon's 2012 team that went 1-2 in Oklahoma City. Senior Alexa Peterson and junior Janie Takeda played in all three games that year, and senior Kailee Cuico and juniors Sara Goodrum, Karissa Hovinga and Jamie Rae Sullivan also saw action for the Ducks.
"I think it's very valuable," White said of that experience. "They can start talking to the girls about the trip and what's going to happen and what to expect."
First-team all-Pac-12 performer Courtney Ceo will get her first chance to play on college softball's biggest stage after being sidelined with a knee injury as a sophomore in 2012.
Ceo and Hawkins were both top-10 finalists for the USA Softball player of the year award this season, and no one enters Oklahoma City in a better groove than the senior third baseman.
During Oregon's five postseason games, Ceo is batting .550 (11-for-20) out of the leadoff spot with two home runs, three stolen bases and has scored 10 times. Her 15-game hitting streak has helped raise her program-record average to .492 on the year.
Takeda and Alyssa Gillespie have been equally impressive at the top of the Ducks' lineup, which hasn't shown any weaknesses in the postseason. Takeda holds a seven-game hitting streak of her own and is batting .529 (9-for-17) with eight runs and eight more driven in.
"We just need to believe in what we've practiced, and I think that's going to be the key," Hawkins said. "And having fun and not building this up to be too much.
"Even though it's the best place you could possibly be."