by Rob Moseley
Numbers illustrate how dominant Oregon was in its NCAA softball regional this past weekend, but they don't explain it.
The Ducks capped a three-game sweep of their regional Sunday with a 6-0 win over Wisconsin, thanks to shutout pitching from Karissa Hovinga and Cheridan Hawkins. Oregon outscored the opposition 24-2 in three games, with its top three hitters combining to go 17-of-32 for the weekend.
The top-ranked team in the country and No. 1 national seed in the postseason, Oregon improved to 52-7-1 on Sunday. The Ducks will host Minnesota in the Super Regionals, on Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. and — if necessary — 5 p.m. (Click here to purchase tickets.)
And why is all of that? Perhaps that's best explained by a few moments at Howe Field before a single pitch was even thrown Sunday.
During a 38-minute rain delay prior to first pitch, the crowd erupted into hysterics when UO freshman Lexy Beaudrie-Pierson emerged from the dugout looking like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man (see picture). The Ducks had been issued parkas owing to the rain, and soon enough Beaudrie-Pierson was wearing seven or eight at the same time, layered on top of each other.
Such antics don't completely explain why Courtney Ceo jumped on the first pitch of the game for a single despite the long rain delay, nor why Takeda was locked in enough to hit her first home run of the season two batters later, giving Oregon a 2-0 lead. But they help.
"In rain delays, it's easy to sit in the dugout and watch the rain fall to the ground, to get bored and zone out," said Takeda, who was named regional MVP after hitting .545 and driving in five runs in three games. "When our energy is high and we're all laughing together, our minds are still sharp. We're with each other in the moment."
Once the rain delay was over, and teams were allowed onto the field for warmups, the Ducks did so in customary fashion. Which is to say, they took the field to the song "Latch" by Disclosure, doing a few choreographed dance moves.
Such a display of unity doesn't completely explain why the Ducks got through their four-team regional with the highest batting average (.369), lowest ERA (0.74) and best fielding percentage (.986). But it helps.
"I feel like it's rare for everyone on the team to be doing something; usually there's a couple people who aren't into it," Takeda said. "But everyone on our team is so involved, and I feel like that's really special."
Thus, so too is Oregon — special. Motivated by the disappointment of last season's Super Regional defeat, the Ducks balance the frustration they've tucked away from that experience with the sort of exuberant pregame behavior on display Sunday.
It's been the formula for an historically successful run. Oregon won its second straight Pac-12 title this spring, and is two wins shy of the school record set in 1989. The Ducks reached No. 1 in the polls for the first time ever, and have lost just twice since, enjoying a 19-2-1 run as the nation's top-ranked team.
Oregon coach Mike White and his team have made little secret of their goal of reaching the Women's College World Series in Oklahoma City. But the Ducks are making sure to have fun along the way — even in rain delays — and to enjoy each successive success that comes their way.
"There's a high level of satisfaction," Hovinga said after earning the win in the circle Sunday. "Wisconsin's a good team, and you can't take anyone lightly."
White made the decision late Saturday to start Hovinga against the Badgers on Sunday, saving Hawkins for a possible second game had Wisconsin won the opener. Hovinga (17-2) went 5 1/3 innings, allowing three hits and a walk with eight strikeouts, before giving way.
Hawkins went to the bullpen to warm up in the third and fifth innings, when Wisconsin had two runners reach. But Hovinga wriggled out of those jams, just as she did in the second inning when a runner reached third with none out.
"She did what she does well, which is keep the ball down, move the ball in and out and use her off-speed stuff," White said.
Hovinga had the luxury of an early 2-0 lead thanks to Takeda's homer, which came in the top of the first because Oregon was designated the visiting team on Sunday. Ceo, who also hit .545 in the regional, added a homer in the second. Koral Costa made it 5-0 with a two-run single in the fifth before coming around to score on an Alexa Peterson hit.
And so the Ducks are moving on to the next challenge — and enjoying themselves every step of the way.