EUGENE, Ore. — Two outs away.
Up 1-0 in the seventh inning over UCLA, with the chance to sweep their NCAA Super Regional series Sunday at Jane Sanders Stadium, the Oregon softball team squandered that lead and then lost a tiebreaking third game later in the day. The Bruins moved on to the Women’s College World Series, while the Ducks played their final game with a record-setting senior class that included pitcher Cheridan Hawkins, catcherJanelle Lindvall and outfielders Koral Costa and Alyssa Gillespie.
After romping over the Bruins in Saturday’s series opener, the Ducks (48-10) turned to freshman pitcher Megan Kleist in the second game Sunday. She held UCLA in check through six innings, before surrendering a game-tying home run in the seventh. The Bruins (40-14-1) went on to win in nine innings, 2-1, then beat Oregon’s ace Hawkins in the deciding game, again by a 2-1 score.
“Right now it hurts a lot,” UO coach Mike White said. “Especially for the seniors, who can’t go back out there and make amends.”
Oregon’s senior class will be able to look back on an unprecedented four Pac-12 championships during its time in Eugene. But the group will also remember frustration on the national level; the Ducks lost both of their games in Oklahoma City last spring, and couldn’t get back this season in what set up as the program’s best shot yet at contending for an NCAA title.
“It’s been a good four years,” Hawkins said. “But this is a hard day.”
Sunday began with promise for the Ducks, the visiting team in the first game of the day. Sophomore Jenna Lilley tripled to lead off the top of the first, and scored on a sacrifice fly by Nikki Udria. But Oregon couldn’t muster any more runs off UCLA starter Selina Ta’amilo (19-5).
Kleist (17-6) made the 1-0 lead stand up until there was one down in the seventh, with Oregon just two outs away from OKC. That’s when Gabrielle Maurice homered to tie the game, breaking a streak of 11 2/3 scoreless innings by Kleist in her two postseason starts this spring. She remained on the mound into the ninth, when Mysha Sataraka led off with a double and scored two batters later on a single by Madeline Jelenicki.
“They came up with the big hit,” White said. “That changed all the momentum in the world, and we just couldn’t recover. …
“I think Megan Kleist proved to everybody why she should have started that game. It was our offense that let us down, it wasn’t our pitching.”
Continuing the string of improbable events, Hawkins then lost for the first time in 11 starts. And she did so due in part to a couple of walks, which have been few and far between during the senior left-hander’s late-season resurgence.
Hawkins (24-4) walked the leadoff hitter in Sunday’s nightcap on four pitches, the runner eventually scoring on an error. Again in the fourth, Hawkins walked the leadoff hitter, who scored on a double by Sataraka.
The Ducks pushed across a run in the bottom of the seventh, when Lilley’s two-out double made it 2-1. Udria followed with a line drive to left field, but it was snared for the final out of the game.
Oregon squandered a glorious chance in the first, unable to score after getting runners at second and third with one out, and loading the bases with two out. UCLA reliever Paige McDuffee (6-1) settled in after that, with the Ducks unable to get another runner into scoring position until the sixth, when Lauren Lindvall popped out to second after two UCLA errors put UO runners on the corners.
“They gave us a little bit different look today than yesterday,” Janelle Lindvallsaid. “As hitters we were trying to communicate, trying to come up with an approach that would work, and maybe we switched around too much. That’s one of those things you’ll never know, and that’s what sucks about it.”