By Rob Moseley
The Oregon softball team hasn’t been shy about its expectations for the 2014 season, and that hasn’t changed despite the Ducks making some history this week.
On Tuesday, Oregon was accorded the No. 1 national ranking in both major collegiate polls. For a team with aspirations of repeating as Pac-12 champions and travelling to Oklahoma City for the Women’s College World Series, it was a satisfying but perhaps not entirely unanticipated milestone.
“We’re just trying to embrace it and play our game,” starting pitcher Cheridan Hawkins said.
The Ducks will play as the nation’s No. 1 team for the first time in the program’s history Saturday in Corvallis at 2 p.m. Oregon State is hosting a three-game series that begins a day later than usual, with games Sunday at 2 p.m. and Monday at 3 p.m. to be televised by Pac-12 Networks.
Oregon State will be looking to end Oregon’s four-game winning streak in the series, by a combined score of 29-3. And now the Beavers will have the added motivation of trying to take down the best team in the country.
“We don’t fear that,” UO third baseman Courtney Ceo said. “We love that we’re there. We’re excited and we want to maintain that.”
Oregon (34-5, 8-1 Pac-12) is in first place in the conference entering the Civil War, a game and a half ahead of UCLA and Arizona State at 9-3. The Bruins were the nation’s top-ranked team last week before dropping two of three to the then-No. 3 Ducks at Howe Field.
Oregon was in position to sweep UCLA before dropping Sunday’s series finale in lackluster fashion.
“They’re a great team,” Ceo said. “It was nice to know that we could beat them two games out of three, but definitely humbling to know that we weren’t just going to sweep them and it wasn’t going to be easy.”
UO coach Mike White said Oregon’s hitters were overaggressive Sunday, lacking the patience to wait for pitches lower in the strike zone that they had hammered earlier in the series. Hawkins also wasn’t particularly sharp against the Bruins.
“We talked about our approach, and how we weren’t as disciplined as we were Friday and Saturday,” White said. “You need to make sure you have the focus from day to day. The same thing could happen against Oregon State – if we don’t have the focus, don’t have the discipline, it’s going to be a tough weekend for us.”
The Beavers (13-20, 3-7) are the only Pac-12 team under .500 overall. Oregon State is last among the conference’s nine teams in hitting with a .273 average, and seventh in ERA at 4.21.
While cognizant of the No. 1 ranking’s significance, White said his long-term goal was to make Oregon a perennial power.
“But now that it’s happened, it’s a good thing,” White said. “We’ve had so many good coaches and players through the program’s history, it really belongs to that group more than any one team.”