Ducks on Deck: Buckle up, it’s going to be a wild finish

Can you believe it? There are only six games left in the softball regular season. The Ducks are currently ranked 12th in the nation and are in third place at 37-14 (11-8) in an extremely talented softball conference, looking to improve on their conference win total from a year ago (11) with three games still remaining. The Ducks have thrived thus far with a high-powered offense and unbeatable pitching from Karissa Hovinga.

The Ducks most recent crucial victory was a double-header sweep against Seattle. At the start of the series the Ducks were ranked 13th, but by the end of it, they moved up one spot to 12th. However, Seattle didn’t make moving up an easy task.

In the first game, Seattle got out to an early 4-0 lead, took a 6-1 lead into the fifth, and an 8-3 lead by the bottom of the sixth. For the rubber-armed Hovinga, this is a fete that is incredibly unusual and borders along the line of offensive. Although, in softball, just like baseball, a pitcher can only go as far as their offensive run support will allow. If Hovinga wasn’t offended by the early Redhawks offensive assault, the Ducks offense sure was.

The Oregon offense was ready to come alive in the bottom of the sixth, but the offense never came alive; instead, it exploded. After only one run in the sixth, the Ducks offense burst for five runs in the seventh inning to take 9-8 lead. Detonating the Oregon offensive bomb by way of a single with the bases loaded was senior infielder Kelsey Chambers.

With the Oregon offense’s job complete, the game was now back in the hands of Hovinga to finish the final two innings for the win and she did it like it was nothing and as if the Ducks had a 10-0 lead instead of a 9-8 lead. With the game one pitching gem, Karissa Hovinga notched her 11th win of the season (11-3). However, she had little time to enjoy it. She was the scheduled starter for game two of the double header.

I am curious what Oregon head coach Mike White’s pep talk to his offense entailed in between games. He couldn’t have been happy with the ‘better late than never’ offensive approach the Ducks took in the first game. Whatever he said to the offense during the break must have been intense. The Ducks didn’t wait long to put some runs on the board in game two.

In softball rules for the second game are a bit different from those in baseball. The second game is only five innings (versus the standard seven) and there is an eight run mercy-type rule. Unfortunately for Seattle, the Ducks would show no mercy and achieve, of all things, an 8-0 victory.

I wonder if Coach White told his team to “swing for the fences” because that’s exactly what the Ducks did. The Ducks saw back-to-back-to-back home runs from Samantha Pappas, Christie Nieto and Kailee Cuico. Despite no rest at all, the machine, Karissa Hovinga pitched her second complete game in one day along with her second victory (12-3), and did not allow a run from the Redhawks. Pappas had her third, three-hit game and team-leading 14th multi-hit contest of the season.

In addition, Pappas improved one position on the career walks (ninth, 67-tied ) list and the home run (ninth-tied, 25) charts, as did Cuico on the season RBI list (ninth-tied, 44).

As the risk of starting Hovinga for both games of the double header, the reward for the Ducks was a double header sweep and the team moving up to 12th in the national rankings. However, the Ducks hard work is only just beginning.

Halftime is over, and there are only three games left on the schedule. The Ducks are 11-8 in conference play and will look to make a statement and focus in on their final three games of the season against conference opponent UCLA starting on Thursday. It will not be an easy task as the Bruins look to spoil the Ducks potential post-season celebration. Wins for the Bruins in any of the three games against the Ducks can really shake up the standings in the pack of 12. UCLA is 35-15 and are tied with the Ducks with 11 conference wins.

However, before the Ducks can look ahead to the Bruins, they had to face a bigger challenge in taking on the nationally ranked number nine, 2011 World Series competitor Missouri Tigers, who are 38-11 and coming off of a close 3-2 loss against Murray State and are likely out for revenge against their next opponent.

The Ducks struggled a bit against the Tigers, losing the series two games to one. Despite losing the series, Oregon showed that they can keep up with the high-powered top-10 teams. The first game featured four lead changes in the first six innings. Kailee Cuico and Kaylan Howard each belted their team-leading 10th home runs of the season. Cuico’s two RBI moved her three spots on the Duck all-time season list for RBI (46-tied), while Howard’s 22nd extra-base hit of 2012 moved her into a tie for 10th in Duck history.

Howard carried over her long ball performance from Friday by clearing the fence again in game two on Saturday for her seventh home run of the season and her second in two days and leading the Ducks to an 8-3 win. Freshman Karissa Hovinga entered the game in the fifth in relief with still no outs and bases loaded in the inning, and coaxed a strikeout, grounder and fly out to allow only one more run.

Mizzou struck early in the final game and did not look back. Kelsey Chambers led the Ducks offense with a home run.

Going into their final series of the season against UCLA, the Ducks should have a bad taste in their mouth from the series loss to the Tigers, and like Missouri did with Oregon, the Ducks will look for revenge against their final opponent of the season. The Ducks are in good hands with freshman flame thrower Karissa Hovinga. Despite her recent success, Oregon coaches were not the only eyes and voices that have recognized and requested her remarkable skill.

As a senior in high school in 2011, Hovinga was asked to play for the Junior National Team for her native home of Canada. The Edmonton, Alberta native pitched and played first base for the team after making through a month’s worth of rigorous evaluations and tryouts from mid-June to mid-July.

The soon-to-be-Duck, helped the Canadian junior team go 12-2 in their season and she carried over the success into her first season in Eugene. It is likely that Hovinga will once against represent her home of Edmonton, Alberta as a member of the Junior National Team again this year depending on if Oregon gets into the national tournament.

Like the baseball team, Duck softball is also ready to take their talents to the NCAA post-season. There are only three home games left and three incredibly important games left before the Ducks softball regular season ends. This final series against UCLA is crucial. Not because of any rivalry or pride. One loss drops the Ducks into fourth in the conference, while three wins guarantees Oregon a third place finish in the Pac-12, and puts the Ducks into or on the fringe of the top-10. If you haven’t been out to Howe Field to see this team at their best, you better get your tickets while you can, they’re going fast.

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