by Rob Moseley
A little piece of history was made Thursday, when the Oregon softball team played at home for the first time as the No. 1 team in the nation.
The Ducks rose to No. 1 a week ago, before playing a series at Oregon State. They then became the unanimous top-ranked team in the country — garnering every first-place vote in both major polls — earlier this week, prior to hosting California this weekend at Howe Field.
"It's nice," said UO right fielder Alexa Peterson, a senior from Salem. "(But) it's something we're trying not to get overwhelmed about, not let it affect our game at all. It's still the same game; we just need to go out, have fun and just stay loose."
The Ducks did just that in sweeping the Beavers last week, and they remained unburdened by the pressure of their No. 1 ranking Thursday. Oregon's first five batters of the game scored, and starting pitcher Cheridan Hawkins improved to 23-3 on the season as the Ducks run-ruled the Golden Bears 9-1 in five innings.
Oregon (38-5, 12-1 Pac-12) chased the opposing starting pitcher in the first inning for the second straight game, and won by the eight-run rule for the third time in a row.
"We talk about just being professional — just go out and do your business, do your job and not think about anything else," UO coach Mike White said. "That's what they're doing right now. The top of the order knows they need to set the table, and the guys in the middle of the order know they need to drive runs in."
That blueprint worked to perfection Thursday, with leadoff hitter Courtney Ceo scoring twice in three at-bats, and Peterson driving in four runs out of the No. 6 hole. Peterson's two-run double capped the five-run first inning, and she added a two-run homer in the third.
Cal (22-18, 4-7) used a leadoff double to score off Hawkins in the fourth. But Ceo walked and scored in the bottom of the inning, and cleanup hitter Kailee Cuico drove in Janie Takeda to give the Ducks an eight-run cushion.
Hawkins retired the side in order to end the game in the top of fifth.
"It's nice to know if you do make an error, they're there to pick you up," Hawkins said. "Obviously I'm not going to take a pitch off, because it's super important to me. But I know if I do, I always have them to back me up, which is awesome."
Hawkins allowed the one run on three hits over five innings, striking out eight and walking one.
"She was free to kind of experiment a little bit, try some different pitches, and I thought she did very well doing that," White said. "Throwing her change and her drop, she battled very well."
White said the short outing, in which each Cal hitter got just two plate appearances, will benefit Hawkins later in the series. The Ducks and Golden Bears meet again Friday at 4 p.m. and Saturday at noon at Howe Field.