Farewell, Howe Field. Hello, Oklahoma City! The No. 1 Oregon Ducks softball team played its final game at Howe Field Saturday afternoon, advancing to the Women’s College World Series after dominating NC State, 9-3, in the second of a two-game series sweep at the Eugene Super Regionals.
— Kelly Graves (@GoDucksKG) May 23, 2015
In six seasons under Oregon Head Coach Mike White, the Ducks make their third WCWS appearance in four years. The first round of the WCWS begins Thursday, May 28th, at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium - OGE Energy Field in Oklahoma City, Okla.
Oregon pitcher Karissa Hovinga started in the circle for the Ducks, allowing only two hits and two runs in five innings. As Hovinga stepped off the mound in the sixth, the senior received a rousing ovation and collective “Thank you” from the sold-out home crowd in Eugene.
“It was awesome,” Hovinga said. “The crowd gave me a good cheer. I was truly honored to start that game.”
Junior pitcher Cheridan Hawkins took the circle in the sixth to close out the game to ensure the win for Hovinga, throwing the last six outs for the save and the final pitch at Howe Field.
“What a special day for us, being the last game at Howe Field,” White said. “Karissa Hovinga getting the last win in Howe Field, and then Cheridan Hawkins throwing the last pitch in Howe Field.”
Wolfpack senior pitcher Emily Weiman served up a mixed bag of riseballs, change-ups, and crack pitch placement to keep NC State deadlocked with the Ducks through the first three innings.
Oregon scored first, but not until the third inning, on Danica Mercado‘s single and subsequent stolen base to put a runner in scoring position. A Nikki Udria single punched Mercado’s ticket home to give the Ducks a 1-0 lead. NC State responded in the the bottom of the third, scoring a run and the game was tied up, 1-1.
In a familiar trend, Oregon hitters eventually adjusted to Weiman and, for the second consecutive game, Oregon issued a batting blitzkrieg in the fourth inning.
Safe at home. Ducks score go-ahead and then tack on three more. Up 5-1 in the fourth. pic.twitter.com/cEoIxk7Dlv
— Tyson Alger (@tysonalger) May 23, 2015
In the top of the fourth, a single from Oregon third baseman and Pac-12 Freshman of the Year Jenna Lilley got things rolling for the Ducks. After a Janelle Lindvall walk, Oregon had two Ducks on the pond.
And with two outs, the juices really started flowing. Oregon blasted four straight RBI singles from junior Koral Costa, sophomore Danica Mercado, junior Alyssa Gillespie and sophomore Nikki Udria, giving the Ducks a 5-1 lead.
The next set of runs came in the seventh inning. After a fielding error on Janie Takeda‘s single that sent the Oregon senior to third base and a Lilley walk, Lindvall went yard with a three-run homer, extending Oregon’s lead, 9-2.
— Eric Evans (@EricEvansPhoto) May 23, 2015
“I couldn’t be any prouder of the team and how they performed.” White said. “Because it’s not easy to play at home. Sometimes, there’s a lot more pressure, and I think our team performed well.”
For NC State, Weiman’s performance received a standing ovation from the Oregon crowd, finishing her remarkable career with the most appearances by an active NCAA pitcher. The Wolfpack finish their season 38-22 overall after making the first Super Regional appearance in program history.
The Ducks will travel to Oklahoma City with their eyes on the ultimate prize. The first game of the NCAA Division I Softball WCWS will air on ESPN at noon this Thursday, May 28.
Top photo by Dave Peaks