by Rob Moseley
After chasing the opposing starter in the first inning both Monday and Thursday, the Oregon softball team was stymied by Cal's Stephanie Trzcinski on Friday.
The Ducks were retired in order in the first inning, and didn't get their first hit until the third. The Golden Bears led 2-0 entering the bottom of the fourth, and a fourth straight win for Oregon shortened by the eight-run rule seemed unlikely.
Then the bottom of the fourth began. The Ducks would send 19 hitters to the plate, scored 15 runs on 12 hits and did indeed need just five innings to send Cal away with the loss, 15-3 at Howe Field.
"We came through," UO coach Mike White said. "We put pressure on, came through with some big hits and just kept it going."
Oregon won its fifth straight overall, protecting for at least one more day its No. 1 ranking in the national top 25. The Ducks and Bears wore pink uniforms to support breast-cancer awareness; a silent auction of Oregon's jerseys raised $1,800.
How does a 15-run inning develop? In this case it went single, single, three-run homer, single, single, walk, run-scoring illegal pitch, walk, three-run double, RBI single … pause for a breath … two-run homer, walk, walk, fielder's choice — the first out of the inning — RBI single, single, grand slam, single, strikeout, flyout.
Four Ducks scored twice in the frame, and both Janelle Lindvall and Janie Takeda had two hits. Koral Costa's three-run homer got the Ducks on the scoreboard, Lindvall had a two-run shot in her second at-bat and Sammie Puentes put a bow on the explosion with her pinch-hit grand slam.
"When girls are hitting bomb after bomb and you're up, you don't want to be the first one to be out," Puentes said. "So I put a lot of pressure on myself. But I was like, you know what, we're up a lot. The worst thing you can do is get out, so I did what I had to do."
Oregon improved to 39-5 overall, and 13-1 in the Pac-12. The Ducks and Golden Bears (22-19, 4-8) will play the series finale Saturday at noon.
Though the fourth inning won Friday's game for the Ducks, signs of a breakthrough came an inning earlier.
Prior to the bottom of the third, UO hitting coach James Kolaitis gathered the team just outside the dugout for a quick word. His message: Stop looking for the perfect pitch against Trzcinski, who was successfully working the edges of the strike zone.
"We were kind of passive early," Kolaitis said. "After that the approach was, we can hit the ball off of the plate and still attack that ball, use the other side of the field."
Karine Shaver and Nikki Udria were retired to start the bottom of the third, but each went the other way with the ball. Lindvall led off the fourth with a single to right field, and Costa's three-run homer was hit high off the scoreboard in right, two more opposite-field swats by right-handed hitters per the advice of Kolaitis.
"He talks a lot about getting pitches you can handle," Costa said. "If it's up in the zone or if it's outside, and you know you can put a good swing on it, then go for it. You'll rarely get pitches down the middle, so just get a pitch you can handle."
The approach sparked a huge inning for the Ducks, keeping alive a stretch of five games in which UO hitters have accounted for 62 runs.
"We're getting better every game," Kolaitis said. "That's what we talk about; we don't look at what we've done so far, we're looking at what we can do to get better. So we're always talking about adjustments, and in this stretch where we're playing well, they're going a really good job of making adjustments."
NOTES: Over the last three Pac-12 series (UCLA, OSU, Cal), the Ducks have scored 84 runs, allowed 28 and run-ruled the opponent five times. ... UO had scored 15 or more runs just once in White's previous four years. The Ducks have done it twice (18 at OSU, 15 vs. Cal) this week. ... UO had scored 15-plus runs against a Pac-12 team just twice in program history (Stanford, 1993 and Oregon State, 1975) before doing it twice this week (18 at OSU, 15 vs. Cal). ... Overall, the Ducks have now scored 15-plus runs 14 times in program history (1974-present) and four times since 1999.