Ducks on Deck: It’s been a while

Moore of The Right Stuff

It’s been a while…Since 1989 to be exact. That is the last time the Oregon softball program made its first and only College World Series appearance. They can now add 2012 to the media guide.

The old cliché goes, ‘everything’s bigger in Texas.’ Up until 2010, the Ducks softball team had played small ball that did not lead to the NCAA Super Regional round. Since 2010, Oregon has made the regionals three straight years in a row (2010, 2011, 2012).

After Friday’s 4-2 loss to the ‘Horns, the pressure was stacked, and the Ducks needed a little help. The Ducks didn’t just need help, they needed Moore help then they were given on Friday. Jessica Moore has been the astonishing pitcher that Coach Mike White knew she was capable of being, all season long.

But could she pitch like the remarkable athlete that White knew she was when the pressure could not possibly be more intense than a 0-1 deficit?

By the end of Saturday night, we had our answer. Coach White handed Moore the ball and she knew she had to be Moore than good to get past Texas.

Her challenge?

Pitch back-to-back elimination games and oh, yeah, win both of them in order to advance. If the Ducks pitcher did not feel the pressure, her teammates felt it for her and responded by bringing their offensive A-game with them to Austin on Saturday. In the first game Oregon tagged Longhorns starter Blaire Luna for three runs in the first inning, thanks to a two-out solo homer by Kelsey Chambers, and a single by Alexa Peterson that scored two more runs. But UT showed why they are a softball powerhouse and responded with a run in the second and three more in the third to go up, 4-3.

Alexa Peterson answered right back for the Ducks in the fourth with an RBI single to tie the game. In the seventh inning, the Ducks put its opening two runners on second and third on a Christie Nieto single and a dropped fly ball by the centerfielder. Allie Burger then hit a fly ball that was caught in shallow left field, and Nieto was thrown out at home trying to score on the tag. The final out in the seventh inning marked the third consecutive inning that Oregon put go-ahead runs on the bases, but were not able to cash in…but in the eighth inning that all changed.

Moore looks as intense as she pitches

The Oregon offense finally decided that enough was enough. Janie Takeda started the inning by beating out a single to third base to start the rally. She stole second and third base to begin the inning, then scored on a sacrifice fly to left field by junior Kaylan Howard to win the game. The Super Regional win was the first for Jessica Moore. It was her 30th complete game of the season, and she had struck out five Texas players in the first match.

With the most important win of the season out of the way and Jessica Moore’s first-ever Super Regional performance a success, there was only one last thing to do; enjoy the moment and know that her pitching helped to let Oregon live to fight for one more game.

Not so fast! That’s not it. Moore was scheduled to pitch game two which started immediately, which meant she had to change her mindset and game plan, quickly. Could her arm hold up for two games? Pitching two consecutive games the same day is a nearly unheard of feat for a pitcher in the modern era, in baseball or softball.

In the first game, Moore was pitching so that her team could make it to the second game. She was pitching the second game with the mindset that a win could get the Ducks to the College World Series, a place UO hasn’t been since the Nintendo Game Boy was invented, The Cosby Show was the most popular program on television, Another Day in Paradise by Phil Collins was the coolest song, and Barbie turned 30.

It’s been a while.

For the second game in a row, the Oregon bats were eager to be introduced to the “made in Texas” baseballs, a relationship that was meant to work from the start. In the second inning, Oregon’s first run came after the first three batters reached via a hit by pitch of senior Christie Nieto, double by sophomore Alexa Peterson, and a RBI fielder’s choice by junior Jessica Moore. Senior Lindsey Chambers added the next run on a sacrifice fly, and freshman Janie Takeda followed with a double that knocked in another runner on a fielding error by the centerfielder. Samantha Pappas added an RBI single to right field for another run, advanced to second on the throw, stole third base, then scored on an RBI single by Kaylan Howard to third base. Kelsey Chambers added the inning’s final run on a double to right center field.

I bet if Texas had to sum up the Ducks offensive assault in one word, it would be frustrating. Combining for 11 hits and 10 runs, the Ducks forced the Horns to use three pitchers in the circle for only the third time this season.

As for Jessica Moore, she was Moore than good, she was everything Oregon needed her to be, simply flawless. She needed to be sound for not one game, but two, and she answered the call. In the circle, Moore staked complete games in both outings, and to date has pitched every inning of Oregon’s postseason except one. With her eight strikeouts combined Saturday, the Sutter, Calif., native now has 244 on the season, and bettered her previous school record for strikeouts from her freshman campaign (238).

For Ducks Softball, making the WCWS has taken a while, but it’s been worth every minute. More importantly, the frustration,  pressure and the “monkey on their backs” of the 0-2 Super Regional sweeps at Missouri and Florida the past two years have now been erased.

Now that the rough series against the Longhorns is behind them, Oregon must prepare for a much bumpier ride to face a familiar foe, joining the other seven Super Regional advancing teams for the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City,  starting in just two days.

Oregon’s first round opponent will be fellow Pac-12 squad Arizona State, the #3 seed and returning NCAA champion. Both teams split the season series this year with a 3-0 win and 7-4 loss in Eugene in early April. If the Super Regional battle against the Texas Longhorns was any indication of what lies ahead, Oregon may just need armor and some battle-tested warriors to help them through their scorching climate-living rivals.

This Oregon team had a great season, they ended the season ranked as the 11th best team in the country (with the 8th best RPI, playing 23 ranked teams during the regular season). Jessica Moore and the Ducks offense has arrived, proving they can take down teams ranked higher than them. Now they find themselves Oklahoma City bound for the College World Series. The last time the Ducks were in the WCWS gas cost $1.12 per gallon and the popular hairdo was “the mullet.”

While Phil Collins had the most popular song on the charts, the second most popular song was “We didn’t start the fire” by Billy Joel. The Ducks didn’t start a fire, but they are heating up at the right time, and if it’s the Ducks that don’t start a fire, not to worry, their bats seem perfectly capable.

One step closer to the ultimate prize.

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