Oregon softball preview: Stillwater Super Regional

Jarrid Denney05/25/23
Article written by:On3 imageJarrid Denney


Darby Winter/ScoopDuck

EDITORS NOTE: This story was written by ScoopDuck softball reporter Christopher Tracy.

The Oregon Ducks are flying into uncharted territory under coach Melyssa Lombardi as they
take on Oklahoma St. in the Stillwater Super Regional, starting later today. After losing in the
Regional round the last two years, the Ducks were able to advance out of Fayetteville,
Arkansas by beating Notre Dame and hosting Arkansas twice. The “How” they did it is even
more impressive than the “What” they did.

It’s been said not all superheroes wear capes, but in Fayetteville, it did seem they wore
Oregon Ducks uniforms. Hannah Delgado robbed a home run with a leaping catch h, Kai Luschar showed speed the flash would be envious of, Tehya Bird launched a grand slam from basically a split squat, and Ariel Carlson was launching moon shots like she worked for NASA.

In the first game Notre Dame scored first, and as they appeared to be on the verge of scoring more, Delgado leaped and stole a home-run from over the wall in center field to hold Notre Dame to a single run in the first. Tehya Bird launched a 3 run HR to retake the lead in the bottom of the 2nd.

Paige Sinicki dropped a bunt for a single, before Kai Luschar laced a triple and added another run. A single by Allee Bunker scored Kai and gave the Ducks a 5-1 lead. The game stayed 5-1 before going into a 2.5 hour rain delay. After the game resumed, Notre Dame found some new life and were able to hit Stevie Hansen a bit better. She kept the Irish at bay until the 6 th inning when Reagan Breedlove took over in the circle, after the lead off batter reached. Reagan was able to get 2 outs, but then she gave up an RBI double and a 2 RBI single.

With the Ducks lead cut to 5-4, Morgan Scott came in and stopped the damage and then
pitched a scoreless 7 th to earn the save. The Ducks victory earned them a rematch with the
Razorbacks, the same team that sent the Ducks home last year.

When the Ducks season ended last year, Coach Lombardi said she stood on the field with Allee Bunker and Terra McGowan. She wanted the leaders to take in the moment, to embrace the feelings they had, and use those feelings to drive them in the coming year. When the Ducks were announced as part of the Fayetteville regional grouping again, it seemed like fate. Terra McGowan even had a quote she posted in the dugout, “Fate happens so redemption can follow.”

The return to Fayetteville was going to be the first stop of the post-season #revenge tour for the Ducks.

In that game with Arkansas, the Ducks showed they were more than ready for the challenge, even as they faced off with the reigning SEC Pitcher of the Year! The Ducks opened the game with a run by Kai, who reached on an error, stole second, and scored on an RBI hit by Carlson.

Arkansas was able to even the score in the bottom half of the 1st. The game remained knotted until the 4th when Carlson reached on a single, KK Humphreys followed with her own, and Carlson scored on a Hanna Delgado single which gave the Ducks a 2-1 lead. In the bottom half of the 4th, the Ducks stung when a routine fly ball got lost in the sun by Bunker, allowing a runner to reach. The next batter made them pay, hitting a 2-run HR and gave the Razorbacks the 1-run lead, 3-2.

Assistant coach Nikki Ragin told the team they needed to play like it was the 7 th inning! This has been a recurring theme for the team, to play each game with a post-season mentality. The Ducks responded right away! The Ducks ended up having 13 batters in the inning, scoring 8 runs, and forced 2 pitching changes.

It was in the heart of this rally that Bird had a long at bat. She had talked about how she can get in her own head trying to guess what the pitch will be after she has seen everything. She made a change in her thinking, a realized that the more pitches gives her the advantage. After fouling off several she saw a change up, and though she was out ahead of it, she very nearly dropped to one knee and muscled a grand slam over the left field wall. At the end of the inning the Ducks had a comfortable 10-3 lead. Scott would give up a solo home run in the 6th, but overall she was able to hold the Razorback offense from mounting a meaningful comeback.

Allee Bunker has said it many times, but she knows it from her 5 years of experience with the Ducks, “everything changes in the postseason.” The Ducks went into the second game with Arkansas knowing exactly how the Razorbacks were feeling, having been on the other side of things the year before. They knew the Razorbacks were in a win-or-go-home mindset, and the Ducks were prepared for the battle they knew was coming.

One thing that stood out though, in spite of the pressure of the moment, the Ducks were loose. Like incredibly loose. Assistant Coach Ragin and volunteer coach Palmonio- Cardozahad their groups of players relaxed during the pre-game warm ups. In fact, coach Ragin was teaching the infielders how to do a model walk and hair flip. It was a marked difference with the Arkansas players, who were much more serious and focused during their warm ups. It’s such a little thing, but it’s the little things that add up to be really big by the end of a game.

The relaxed Ducks jumped out to an early lead in the bottom of the 1st. After giving up a run in the top half, the Ducks bounced right back and after Kai was able to reach in the lead off spot, she scored on an RBI by Carlson. This turned out to be a recurring theme, Carlson scoring runs! The next batter, KK Humphreys launched a 3 run home-run over the wall in center field to put the Ducks up 4-1.

The Ducks were able to hold the lead thru the 2nd inning, but in the 3rd, Arkansas mounted their comeback. Their 3 run home-run evened the game and they captured all the momentum that a home crowd could provide. If was a brand-new game.

In the 4th the Ducks were able to get Alyssa Daniel on with a lead-off walk. She moved to second on a single from Delgado. Bird dropped a bunt to move them over, and it was an RBI single from Kai that drove in the go-ahead run. That proved to be the only run the Ducks would need, but they went ahead and scored more….just cause!

In the 5th Stevie Hansen gave up a single, but was able to keep the Razorbacks off the board. She pitched a great game. Leading off for the Ducks, McGowan singled. Carlson followed her and absolutely crushed a home run to left field that cleared both fences and hit a tent just before reaching the parking lot. The Ducks were up 7-4, but they were just getting started! KK was up next and she singled. Delgado also singled, before Bird walked to load the bases with 1 out. Paige Sinicki was masterful in the field, but she found a way to get her offense involved too! She roped a double into the left field corner, scoring KK and Delgado and giving the Ducks a 9-4 lead.

Bunker came up and drew a 2-out walk to load the bases. McGowan followed with an RBI single and the Ducks were ahead 10-4 with the bases still loaded. That brought Ariel Carlson back up to the plate.

As in the previous game, the Ducks faced 3 Arkansas pitchers, and were seemingly seeing each one as well or better than the last. In her second at-bat of the inning Ariel said she “reached out” for a pitch, but ended up driving it over the left-field wall for the walk-off grand slam!! The Ducks would win the game 14-4.

What’s amazing is, nobody on the field seemed to know what had happened. Coach Lombardi was thinking about how the Ducks needed to keep scoring. First thoughts from Bunker, “OK, now we will just need to get 3 more outs…”, and Carlson, well she wasn’t sure it had been hit that well and didn’t notice it was a home run until she was rounding first. Her first thought was, “Can’t wait to get home and celebrate with my team.”

The Ducks had accomplished what they set out to do, progress past the opening round of postseason play and make it to Super Regional. They were able to vanquish the monkey on their back and check a box at the same time. They had the redemption they were looking for, but they aren’t done.

Oklahoma St. still looms large, and they have a very very good team. They are led in the circle with two veterans, fifth-year senior Kelly Maxwell, and senior transfer Lexi Kilfoyl who came over from Alabama. Their team ERA is 2.11 and they have faced from strong competition during the season. The offense is led by grad transfer Rachel Becker from Purdue. She is perhaps one of the hottest bats in the country. It doesn’t seem to matter who she faces, she finds a way to make things happen. Their team is batting .325 on the season, and again this is against some very strong competition.

They faced Oregon early in the season, but these are 2 totally different teams. The Ducks were playing with no Delgado, Kai was still dealing with a broken hand, and OSU didn’t face Morgan Scott. Oklahoma St has played about a weekend more games than Oregon but has about the same record as the Ducks at 44-15 while Oregon is 38-15.

The Ducks’ speed on the bases will be something they will look to capitalize on. They are 74
of 89 on the steals during the season while Oklahoma St has only faced 36 attempts from their competition this season. In part that’s because they have a very good catcher behind the plate in Taylor Tuck. She has thrown out 7 of the 22 runners that had run on her. Oklahoma St. themselves does not run very much, but they have been successful when doing so, with 47 of 56.

Oklahoma St. started the season on fire, but they closed it out on a skid, going 2-11 entering the postseason. Kelly Maxwell had some control issues and they were giving up considerably more walks late in the season than they were accustomed to. Maxwell is a strike-out pitcher with great velocity and movement…and she is a lefty.

Kilfoyl meanwhile is more reliant upon the defense to get things done. The pitching staff is one of the best in the nation when they are firing on all cylinders. However, they have been having some issues that open the door for the Ducks’ offense which has been catching fire at just the right time. I expect that both teams will be great defensively. They will both score runs. The team that is able to maximize their pitching will likely win the series. Morgan Scott showed what “demon mode” is like when she shut out UCLA. We all know what Stevie Hansen looks like when she is hitting her spots. And Reagan Breedlove frustrates hitters with the low-in-the-zone drop ball when she is in her zone.

The key will be, if can the Ducks be in the zone against Oklahoma St. If the Ducks are able to stay loose and not let the pressure get to be too much. I like their chances. They have been preparing all season for this moment, having focused on the mental aspects since the end of last season. Should be a great series and a good chance to watch great softball!