As the one of the most successful Oregon Ducks’ softball regular seasons concludes after this weekend’s series with the Arizona Wildcats, it’s time to give a round of applause to the Ducks’ seniors: Third baseman Courtney Ceo, catcher/right fielder Alexa Peterson and first baseman Kailee Cuico. But their strong play on the field isn’t the only thing in need of recognition; more importantly, it’s the combined leadership and experience from all three that has aided the top-ranked Ducks this season, and it must carry over into the postseason.
The Ducks haven’t faced much adversity this season, as their 48-6-1 record indicates, but in the rare instances when things haven’t gone their way, the Ducks have always followed up a loss with a win. The team faced a similar challenge last week after the Arizona State Sun Devils, led by star pitcher Dallas Escobedo, took the first game of a three-game series against the Ducks, 4-2.
The loss at Howe Field was only the second of the entire season for the Ducks, but team morale was noticeably low after the game. This prompted Ceo, Peterson and Cuico to call a players-only meeting on the field after head coach Mike White spoke with the team.
Several players were fairly tight-lipped when asked what was said during the meeting, although pitcher Cheridan Hawkins offered some insight.
“We were just talking and kind of setting up a game-plan,” Hawkins said. “We’re going to stick to our plan, our process.”
As a reporter, it was difficult in that moment for me to understand exactly what Hawkins meant, but whatever the seniors said in that meeting last Friday evening worked wonders for the Ducks. The following afternoon, they responded aggressively by jumping out to a quick lead and would eventually beat the Sun Devils 12-2, in six innings.
On Thursday night, the Ducks took the next step on the road to OKC by clinching their second-straight Pac-12 title with a 7-3 win over the No. 9 Wildcats, combined with a UCLA loss to Arizona State.
“It is incredibly special to win another title,” Peterson said in an interview with GoDucks.com after Thursday’s victory. ”I’m so thankful to be a part of this program and be a part of history.”
The Ducks will now look ahead to the NCAA Division I Softball selection show, which airs tonight at 7:00 P.M. Pacific Time on ESPNU. The Ducks are almost surely guaranteed to host a regional series next week at Howe Field, but it’s important that they don’t get too comfortable at home.
The road to OKC will include stops in hostile environments, which could very well lead to more adverse situations for the Ducks. How they respond will likely determine how far this team can go, but if Ceo, Peterson and Cuico continue to provide the steady leadership they have all season, reaching the World Series is very much in the Ducks’ sight.
“Courtney, Alexa and I talked about getting to this level as freshmen a long time ago,” Cuico said to GoDucks.com. “Some people kind of doubted us this season with all the talent we lost from last year, but we had an amazing team effort to stay on top.”
This is the last hurrah for Ceo, Peterson and Cuico in a Duck uniform and they seem hungry for a championship. If the rest of the team can match their intensity, the Ducks will be a tough team to beat this postseason.
Top photo Gary Breedlove