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Ducks look for better luck in Super Regional

EUGENE — Oregon didn’t face a lot of adversity last season leading into the NCAA Super Regional.

Before stunning back-to-back 2-1 losses to UCLA, the Ducks had outscored opponents by an average of 5.3 runs per game with 18 run-rule victories. Only six of their 48 victories were by two runs or less.

Oregon swept through the regional with lopsided victories over Fordham (8-0) and Baylor (6-0 and 8-1) before opening the super regional with an 8-1 romp over the Bruins.

But after getting within two outs of the Women’s College World Series, coach Mike White’s veteran team didn’t respond well when its 1-0 lead slipped away in the second game. UCLA survived the doubleheader and represented the Pac-12 in Oklahoma City.

The 2017 Ducks believe that Saturday’s 6-5, eight-inning victory over Wisconsin, a game they trailed 5-3 with two outs in the seventh inning before coming back to tie the score, will serve them well the rest of the postseason.

Third-seeded Oregon will host No. 14 Kentucky for a best-of-three Super Regional beginning Friday at Jane Sanders Stadium.

“I think in postseason the games are tough, and in order to win you’ve got have a sense of belief,” senior right fielder Danica Mercado said.

“I think that game is big for our sense of belief from here on out. We proved (to) ourselves we can come back.”

Oregon defeated the Badgers 9-0 in five innings Sunday to improve to 24-0 in regional games under White and advance to the Super Regional for the eighth consecutive season.

Miranda Elish (10-0, 1.53 ERA), White’s No. 3 starter, allowed one hit and finished with two RBIs in the five-inning clincher.

“I learned that my team can come back from anything,” said Elish, who scored the game-winning run against Wisconsin on Saturday. “There was never a doubt in my mind that we weren’t going to win. I knew we were going to pull through.

“We always say we love each other more. That’s us. Always us.”

White was ready to use Megan Kleist and Maggie Balint in relief on Sunday if Elish struggled. There wasn’t an official plan for a second game had the Ducks lost.

“It really puts you in the driver’s seat when you have that two-win cushion. They have to beat you twice,” White said. “I don’t know if we learned from last year against UCLA, but we took the fun out of it early, and that was pretty good.”

Oregon rallied from a three-run deficit to defeat Kentucky 5-4 on Feb. 17 at the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic in Cathedral City, Calif. Nikki Udria broke a 4-4 tie with a home run in the seventh inning and homered twice during the Ducks’ 8-6 loss to the Wildcats last season.

“We’ve got our work cut out for us,” White said. “There’s no easy draw when you get to this next round, that’s for sure. You’ve already seen a number of upsets from around the country, or at least coming down to an extra game.

“We need to make sure that we’re ready and can control what we can control.”

Of the 16 remaining teams in the NCAA bracket, eight are from the SEC and five are from the Pac-12.

Oregon won’t have to worry about playing a pressure-packed doubleheader against Kentucky. The NCAA has changed the format of the Super Regional, with Game 1 on Friday, Game 2 on Saturday and, if necessary, Game 3 on Sunday.

The Ducks are seeking their fourth Women’s College World Series appearance under White.

Oregon's Alexis Mack, left, slides safely into home ahead of the tag from Wisconsin catcher Chloe Miller during the fifth inning of Sunday's NCAA regional championship in Eugene. [THE ASSOCIATED PRESS]