by Jackson Elliott
Oregon Softball is now 33-14 overall and 11-9 in the PAC-12, while Arizona is now 34-10 overall, 11-7 in the conference after Saturday’s doubleheader against the Wildcats. The Ducks will carry a 2-1 series lead into the finale Sunday afternoon, knowing that they at least have a series split against a very strong Arizona team.
Game 1 was a 1-0 pitchers duel between Brooke Yanez and Alyssa Denham, with only 10 hits given up between the two of them. Yanez struck out 12 batters, her best performance since the UCLA series. She got herself out of multiple tough situations with Arizona runners in scoring positions through strikeouts and groundouts, including once in the 2nd after giving up a leadoff triple. 5th inning back to back doubles made the difference for the Ducks, one being from Deijah Pangilinan, her first extra-base hit of the season. The other was from Haley Cruse, who finished the game 3-3, just a home run short of the cycle. Cruse talked about her turnaround mentally in the postgame press conference. “This weekend, I was really just focusing on getting out of my own way… I’ve been so focused on trying to hunt the right pitch… so this weekend I just went up there and didn’t want to have an approach, as ironic as that sounds.” She goes on to mention how she’s been playing more freely, and how this has been the key to getting back to her best after struggling with pitchers figuring her out. Clearly it worked.
Game 2 was most of the same, behind starters Samaria Diaz for Oregon and Hanah Bowen for Arizona, and relievers Makenna Kliethermes and Raegan Breedlove for the Ducks and Alyssa Denham for the Wildcats. Offensive outbursts late won the game 4-3 for Arizona, with Allie Skaggs crushing a 2-run homer in the 5th and Carlie Scupin bringing in another two with a single in the 6th. The story of the game for both sides was the stranded runners: Arizona with 6 and Oregon with 8. The Ducks put on an anti-bunting clinic, popping out bunts three times with runners in scoring position. However, Cruse did complete her two-game cycle with a leadoff home run in the bottom of the 1st.
Despite the tough loss, Coach Meylissa Lombardi continues to be proud of this Oregon Ducks team. She has preached their mentality and what it means to the program since day 1 of her tenure and she continues to stress the difference that it makes for them. “When you get to college, physically, everybody has it… I think your mentality is the difference maker, and I think this team had no choice but to have from day one and I think it was our foundation. From there, each year, it’s grown. I love watching their fight, I love when somebody jumps ahead of us that they come right back the next inning and score. This team doesn’t get panicked, they always stay poised, they have excellent composure and they expect to win.” This elite mentality has continued to make the difference for the Ducks, with six one-run wins on the season and only the one loss this evening. The final series next weekend away at Cal and the postseason following look bright for the Ducks as they are “peaking at the right time”, per Haley Cruse. Don’t miss the series finale against Arizona at 12 noon tomorrow though. It promises to be yet another nail biter. Follow live on Twitter @KWVAsports