By: Ian Sutliff
Eugene, OR– After a stunning victory over Arkansas in the Fayatteville regional, Melyssa Lombardi and her team will focus their attention on Oklahoma State as they travel to Stillwater for the super regional starting Thursday at 6 P.M. Both teams won their regionals without facing elimination and after rough dissapointing ends to their regular seasons, the Ducks and Cowgirls are just two wins away from heading to the College World Series. Last time out the Cowgirls took down the Ducks in Puerto Vallarta in the opening week of the season, but since then the two squads have played over 100 combined games. With Oregon searching for its first CWS appearance since 2018, it’ll have to get past a strong veteran-led Oklahoma State group who is looking to make its fourth straight trip to Oklahoma City. This article has you covered for everything you need to know about the Stillwater super regional.
It’s been a whirlwind couple of weeks for the Ducks who carried a 13-game win streak into its final series against Utah. The team was then swept at home by the Utes, which marked the first time Utah had won a game in Eugene since 2016. Oregon looked like they had rebounded completely from that loss when they were just outs away from advancing to the PAC-12 semi-final game. The Ducks led 2-0 in the bottom of the 6th with two outs but Stanford tied the game just three batters later and when the Ducks led 3-2 in the bottom of the 7th, Stanford took their first lead of the game by way of a walk-off win after an Allee Bunker error. Just two weeks later, Oregon finds itself in the super regional after getting revenge in Fayatteville and sweeping the regional, outsourcing the Hogs 24-8 in two games.
The hero of the regional, Ariel Carlson has turned her season around after seeing her power numbers take a huge dip from 2022 into this 2023 campaign. Carlson hit 15 home runs last season but through 40 games this year, that total sat at just three. In her last thirteen games though the senior outfielder has homered six times and went 7-11 (.636) with two home runs and ten RBIs. One of those home runs was a grand slam to give Oregon a 14-4 mercy rule victory to send home 11th ranked Arkansas in their own regional, which was part of a nine-run inning. Tehya Bird was also huge for the Ducks as she added a couple home runs of her own, including a grand slam in the first game against the Razorbacks that pushed Oregon’s lead to six in the 5th inning.
With an offense heating up and taking pressure off first team all-PAC-12 players Bunker and Terra McGowan, the pitching will need to be at its best against an offense that had the ninth best batting average and 17th most runs per game in the nation. While the pitching was fine, it didn’t excel against Notre Dame and Arkansas. Stevie Hansen was solid in her start against the Fighting Irish, but both her and Scott allowed four earned runs in their respective starts against Arkansas. Raegan Breedlove was a non-factor in the regional after struggling in her appearance against Notre Dame. Scott looked to be the better of the two as her ERA sat at 3.36 in the regional while striking out seven through 8 ⅓. Hansen carried a 4.20 ERA through ten innings but only struck out one. Lombardi may have to go with the hot hand in Scott, but Hansen has undoubtedly earned her flowers in her two seasons with Oregon as she has gone 33-14 with a 2.86, as well as 233 strikeouts in just 73 appearances.
The Cowgirls were cruising through the early portion of the season going 39-3 all the way through mid-April before hitting a rut. Oklahoma State had convincing wins against top teams like Oregon, Virginia Tech, Louisiana, Baylor, and Florida State to name a few in its first couple months. Then the Cowgirls hit a rough patch, going 2-11 in their final 13 contests before hosting the regional. They outscored Wichita State, Nebraska, and UMBC 20-2, but this weekend will determine if Kenny Gajewski’s team is really back or if its easy regional pairing was the reason for its success. While six of those losses came to top-ranked teams like Oklahoma and Texas, there were some inexcusable losses to mediocre squads like Texas Tech, North Texas, Kansas, and Iowa State. Excluding the regional win over Wichita State, the Cowgirls haven’t beat a ranked team since its win over Baylor on March 26th. The regional should give Oklahoma State fans encouragement but it’s hard not to be worried with the way this team has played over the last month of the season.
Rachel Becker is the heart and soul of this Oklahoma State offense and her .453 batting average ranks seventh in the nation. This is an offense that ranks ninth in batting average at .325 and is led by grad students Chyenne Factor, Kiley Naomi, Morgan Wynne, and Becker. Naomi might be the most dangerous player on this team even with Becker’s conference-leading batting average. The shortstop is batting .360 this year with a team-leading 11 home runs and 12 stolen bases. Her walk-to-srikeout ratio sits at above 1:1 as she has also walked 26 times and gone down on strikes just 19 times in 175 at-bats. One thing that this offense is lacking though is that there aren’t any players that are on current hot-streaks which could be a problem for a team that is searching for a hero right now. It’s also lost a lot of the power it had early in the season, as the team has just seven home runs in its last ten games. For all the focus on the veteran presnece though, Micaela Wark and Tallen Edwards combine to make one of the best freshman duos in the country. Wark sits right behind Naomi with ten home runs and 50 RBIs while Edwards has started 53 of the Cowgirls 58 games as a true freshman while carrying a slash line of .329/.387/.460 with three home runs and 11 extra-base hits.
Before getting into the tremendous pitching staff for Oklahoma State, the phrase “defense wins championships” might be key for this squad. OSU has played some amazing defense this year and was awared with the eighth highest fielding percentage in the country at .978. Becker is a huge reason as her fielding percentage sits at .980 this season after making just four errors in 199 chances. Back to the pitching side of things, Oklahoma State is a three-headed monster of seniors Lexi Kilfoyl and Kelly Maxwell, as well as unanimous all-freshman team selection Kyra Aycock. Maxwell and Kilfoyl have almost identical stats, but it’s Maxwell that’s seen as the team’s ace. In two starts in the regional, Maxwell picked up a win while striking out 17 in just 9 ⅓ . When she gave up two earned in the regional final, Kilfoyl came in clutch to record the final eight outs while allowing just three base runners. It’s a tandom that’s worked well all season as the two have ERAs just below two and have combined for 29 of the team’s 44 wins. Maxwell has been absolutely dominant though, going 15-5 with a 1.87 ERA while striking out 215 hitters in just over 130 innings. Aycock has also been huge in taking the load off the two veterans and is 9-2 with a 2.30 ERA in her Freshamn season while carrying just a 2.08 ERA in her final nine appearances. If the offense can’t click the way it did at the beginning of the season, this staff will have to avoid its late season struggles.
After getting swept and losing in the first round of their respective tournaments, both clubs played some of their best softball in regional play. Now the two will square off for the first time in nearly four months with the stakes much higher: a trip to the college world series. It’s familiar territory for the Cowgirls, but the Ducks are looking to get back to Oklahoma City where they appeared five times from 2012 to 2018. Oklahoma State has the talent and experience but Oregon has the heart and has already played the role of underdog to perfection in Fayatteville, but the Cowgirls might be the best team the Ducks have played outside of UCLA. With Hansen likely to get the ball and the Ducks rolling right now, Oregon will win the first game, but find themselves playing a winner take all game three after losing Friday’s contest. Scott and Hansen will struggle to keep the OSU bats at bay, but Carlson and Bunker home runs will prove too much for Oklahoma State, sending Oregon back to the College World Series for a chance at their first national championship in program history.