by Rob Moseley
As senior days go, this probably wasn't what Courtney Ceo envisioned when she first came to Oregon.
It drizzled during the pregame ceremony at Howe Field to honor Ceo, Kailee Cuico and Alexa Peterson. There were rain delays of 34 and 36 minutes. And ultimately, a weather-shortened 2-2 tie for the No. 1 Ducks in their series finale with No. 3 Arizona State on Sunday.
"Today was definitely a little different," Ceo said with a laugh before helping her teammates tarp the field following the sixth and final inning.
The Sun Devils and Ducks each scored twice in the fifth inning, and Oregon had a runner on first with one out when the second rain delay began in the sixth. The Ducks were given the chance to end it despite continuing rain fall but were quickly retired once play resumed.
Thus was UO coach Mike White's career record graced with its first tie, capping an entertaining series in which ASU took the opener and Oregon won by the run rule Saturday.
Still, there were positives for the Ducks (47-6-1, 18-2-1 Pac-12) to take even from the rare tie.
1) They remain in control of the Pac-12 race: For a time early Sunday, with Stanford threatening to upset UCLA, it looked like the Ducks might have a chance to clinch a share of the conference title. It wasn't to be, after the Bruins beat the Cardinal and Oregon settled for a tie. But Oregon enters the final weekend of the regular season in the driver's seat for the crown.
UCLA enters the week a game and a half behind the Ducks, and playing a three-game series at the Sun Devils. In order to steal the Pac-12 championship, the Bruins will have to win two more games than the Ducks, who play at No. 9 Arizona.
"We've got to prepare well for them … and go take it to them," White said.
2) Seeing a pitcher the caliber of ASU ace Dallas Escobedo: Once NCAA Regional play begins following the regular season, the Ducks will face top-flight pitching the rest of the way. So it was helpful to get a second look Sunday at one of the best in the country, Escobedo, the winning pitcher Friday.
Should the Ducks make it through Regionals and Super Regionals, there's also the possibility of facing Escobedo herself at the Women's College World Series.
"So it was good for our team to get those looks and see her quite a bit," Ceo said.
3) Showing some fight Sunday, on and off the field: UO starter Cheridan Hawkins surrendered a two-run homer in the fifth, a daunting development with Escobedo putting up zeros for ASU. There were two on and one out later in the fifth when White went to reliever Jasmine Smithson-Willett, who ended the threat and ultimately retired all five hitters she faced.
In the bottom of the fifth, Ceo led off with her patented bunt single in front of home plate. In a bit of irony for a game twice delayed by rain, Alyssa Gillespie then lofted a flyball that ASU's left fielder lost in the sun during a brief break in the weather. Janie Takeda followed with a two-run single, and it was 2-2.
During the sixth-inning rain delay, as umpires and coaches huddled to discuss the situation, the several hundred fans who stuck around began chanting "Let them play!" In their dugout, the Ducks began chanting along with the fans, wanting the chance to win the game in their final two outs.
"We found fight in our team," Ceo said. "We really wanted to play that last inning. Even though we didn't get the result we wanted — they gave us those at-bats, and we didn't execute — but we wanted it, and that's bigger for our team than even getting the win. …
"Overall we split the weekend and ended in a tie, but we gained a lot more out of it than that."