The Oregon Ducks are Oklahoma City bound, earning a fifth berth in the last six years to the Women’s College World Series with a 11-1 blowout over the Kentucky Wildcats Saturday evening at Jane Sanders Stadium.
Oregon head coach Mike White went with the hot hand in Miranda Elish and as has been the case throughout the post season, his roll of the dice came up boxcars.
A day after handcuffing Kentucky on a pair of hits, the sophomore right-hander took up right where she left off, striking out seven, walking one and scattering four hits to lead the Ducks to a second straight Super Regional win over the Wildcats and on to the WCWS.
Elish had the luxury of seeing her offense explode for seven runs in the second inning. Shannon Rhodes started the merry-go-round with a solo blast to right center field to lead off the inning. A pair of walks, a single and a fielder’s choice loaded the bases for DJ Sanders and the senior shortstop teed off on Kentucky pitcher Grace Baalman’s offering, sending a laser into the netting in left field.
Oregon tacked on two more runs before the Wildcats could get out of the inning and with Elish’s continued mastery of the Kentucky batting order the Jane was in full celebration mode for the next three innings.
In their final at bats in front of the hometown faithful Jenna Lilley and Gwen Svekis each came away with a lasting memory; Lilley a RBI single and Svekis lacing a two-RBI triple into the right field corner.
“Somebody pinch me. It’s like wow. I couldn’t believe this in my wildest dreams that we would come out and score that many runs. Just a tremendous achievement,” said White. ” … Another solid performance from Miranda Elish on the mount. Here’s the ball, go take us as far as you can take us. And fortunately we gave her some support, we did a great job.”
In doubling down with Elish rather than sending Megan Kleist out to face the Wildcats, White acknowledged past experience played a role. In the 2013 Super Regional White went with experience in Jessica Moore rather than a young Cheridan Hawkins who was coming into her own in a decisive game three. Oregon lost to Nebraska 4-2 and White took the opposite tack against the Wildcats.
“It’s still a hard decision, don’t get me wrong.” he said. “We got probably one of the best pitchers in the country sitting on the bench here this game. It could have gone either way. But sometimes you just got to go with what’s hot. And Miranda didn’t let us down.”
Elish was told she would get the nod “this morning … Coach Spencer called me and then Coach White called me shortly after … Megan is an amazing pitcher. I knew that if I got in trouble that she would be able to come in and pick me up.”
The Ducks will face a familiar foe in their opening game, Arizona State. The Sun Devils advanced, sweeping South Carolina to set up the Pac-12 showdown. With UCLA and Washington also claiming berths, the conference will have four of the eight spots in the double-elimination tournament. Defending champion Oklahoma returns and the SEC will be represented by Florida and Georgia. The ACC’s Florida State rounds out the field. Play begins Thursday with the Ducks and Sun Devils kicking things off at 9:00 am Pacific.
~ Rick Morgan
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