Kentucky tops Oregon to open super regional
EUGENE — Super Regionals opened with the most forgettable performance of the 2018 season by the Oregon softball team. Rallying back to the Women’s College World Series will take a comeback to remember.
Kentucky jumped on UO ace Megan Kleist in the first inning, and the Wildcats kept up the pressure on Oregon’s pitching and defense all night in a 9-6 victory Thursday before a sellout crowd of 2,522 fans in Jane Sanders Stadium. The Ducks (50-8) hadn’t allowed so many runs in a game since April 2017, and committed a season-high four errors.
The two teams will meet again Friday at 8 p.m., in a game to be televised by ESPN2. Should the Ducks win, the series will extend to a third game Saturday (6 p.m., ESPN), with the winner moving on to Oklahoma City.
“We know our back’s against the wall right now,” UO coach Mike White said. “That makes it pretty simple, actually. We have to come out and win, or else our season’s done.”
This Super Regional rematch from 2017, when Oregon swept a two-game series, matched a Kentucky offense that run-ruled all three of its NCAA Regional opponents with a UO pitching staff that didn’t allow a run in regionals. Something had to give, and it was the Ducks’ pitching.
Kleist (21-6) allowed the second-most runs she’s surrendered in a game over three seasons with the Ducks, including two three-run home runs. The Wildcats pushed across six earned runs against the UO junior, twice as many as she’d allowed in any start this season.
“We missed over the plate, and sometimes you can get away with that against teams that aren’t as good,” UO catcher Gwen Svekis said. “But they punished mistakes.”
Alex Martens set the tone with a three-run homer in the top of the first, and the Wildcats added a run in the second. Svekis homered in the bottom of the second and the Ducks manufactured two more in the third to get within 4-3, but Abbey Cheek hit the first of her two homers in the game to break it open again in the top of the fourth.
Cheek’s second homer was a two-run shot in the sixth, after Oregon had rallied again to within 7-5.
“They came out really aggressive, and I think today we might have come out a little complacent, and expecting to win,” UO sophomore outfielder Haley Cruse said. “They came out firing, and we need to come out firing tomorrow.”
Kleist struggled so consistently Thursday that Balint warmed up in each of the first four innings, before entering to start the fifth. White kept sophomore Miranda Elish in reserve for Friday’s game.
“I think Miranda’s gonna be pretty fired up,” White said. “I’m sure all three pitchers are going to be ready to go, if they have to; it’s do or die.”
The Ducks will now look to accomplish what UCLA did to them two years ago at The Jane — bounce back with two wins to reach OKC, after losing the Super Regional opener. Oregon will look to stay alive as it did in winning twice at last year’s Women’s College World Series following an opening-game loss, and in winning a regular-season series against the Bruins this year after dropping the opener.
“We’re prepared for this moment,” Svekis said. “In my four years there have been plenty of moments that prepared us for right now. I expect us to come back tomorrow, ready to go.”
To be worthy of their No. 1 national ranking, they’ll have to be.
“How are we going to bounce back?” White asked rhetorically. “Sure, we had a bad game. But if we want to be national champions and be the No. 1 team in the country, we have to bounce back from this.”
OSU 2, UCLA 0: At Corvallis, Luke Heimlich struck out 10, setting a single-season record in the process, as second-ranked Oregon State defeated No. 18 UCLA, 2-0, in front of 3,567 fans at Goss Stadium Thursday.
Heimlich reached double figures for the seventh consecutive game, and with his third K of the day surpassed Jonah Nickerson — 131 in 2006 — for the most strikeouts in a season by an Oregon State pitcher.
The left-hander, who also tied the Oregon State single-season record with his 14th win, sits at 139 strikeouts on the year, which ties him for fifth nationally.
On Thursday, he struck out nine over his first four innings and held the Bruins (35-18 overall, 18-10 Pac-12 Conference) to five hits in 7?2/3 scoreless innings. Brandon Eisert came on in the eighth and threw one pitch to end the frame, before needing 10 in the ninth for his fifth save of the year.
Oregon State (43-9-1, 19-8-1) scored its only runs of the game in the second. Tyler Malone drilled the first pitch he saw from UCLA starter Jake Bird to right for a run-scoring single. He then watched as Jack Anderson grounded out to first, bringing in Trevor Larnach from third.
Bird went the distance for UCLA. He scattered five hits and two runs while walking two and striking out two. He is 7-4 on the year.
Michael Gretler’s double in the fourth inning gave him 19 on the season. That ties him with A.J. Marquadt (1993), Joe Gerber (2000), Jacoby Ellsbury (2005) and Ryan Dunn (2012) for the ninth-most in a season at Oregon State. Gretler now has 36 career doubles, three shy of ninth at Oregon State.