by Rob Moseley
With two of the top pitchers in the country in the circle, the margin of error was destined to be thin when No. 1 Oregon hosted No. 3 Arizona State this weekend.
In the series opener Friday, the Ducks experienced the most significant slip. It cost them the game, as the UO softball team lost for the first time in nearly a month, 4-2, before a sold-out crowd of 1,209 at Howe Field.
Oregon (46-6, 17-2 Pac-12) came from behind when the bottom of the order delivered a two-run rally with two out in the fourth off ASU ace Dallas Escobedo. But the Sun Devils (43-7, 14-4) capitalized on three Oregon errors to score three times in the sixth inning.
"We didn't get the big hits when we needed them, and we gave them those runs," UO coach Mike White said.
It was a rare defensive breakdown for the Ducks, who were fielding .972 as a team entering the weekend, and .978 in Pac-12 play.
With runners on the corners and one out in the sixth, ASU's Chelsea Gonzales lined a single that UO left fielder Janie Takeda misplayed, with both runners coming around to score. Gonzales took third on a groundball that glanced off the glove of third baseman Courtney Ceo, then scored when UO catcher Janelle Lindvall threw to second trying to catch the runner from first stealing.
Only one of the three runs in the inning was earned off UO starter Cheridan Hawkins (28-4), who also allowed a home run in the first. She struck out 10 in 6 2/3 innings, striking out two straight to end the third inning with the bases loaded.
"I thought she did really well," White said.
Hawkins entered the game needing just five strikeouts to match Jessica Moore's single-season program record of 256, set in 2012. The 10 punch outs Friday versus Arizona State gives Hawkins 261 strikeouts in 188 innings pitched this year.
The Ducks were similarly stifled by Escobedo (21-6), who allowed five hits and four walks while striking out eight. Koral Costa homered with two outs in the fourth for Oregon. Karine Shaver then walked and took second on one of four illegal pitches called against Escobedo on the night, and Nikki Udria drove in Shaver with a single.
Oregon otherwise failed to mount much of a threat off Escobedo, with the top six hitters in the order combining to go 2-for-20. Lindvall led off the fourth inning with a drive that the center fielder caught at the fence, and sent the right fielder to the warning track leading off the sixth.
"Obviously we're facing one of the best pitchers in the country, if not the best," White said. "We had some good discipline at times, and at other times we didn't have any discipline. … Good pitching beats good hitting, and they kind of had our number there at the top."
The loss was Oregon's first since an April 6 defeat at the hands of UCLA, another No. 1 vs. No. 3 matchup when the Bruins were the top-ranked team in the country. The Ducks had won 12 games since; three of Oregon's six losses on the season are to teams ranked No. 3 or higher.
The Ducks and Sun Devils meet again Saturday at 4 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m., the latter to be televised by Pac-12 Networks.
"We got beat, and it's gonna happen," White said. "What are we going to do now? How are we going to pick ourselves back up? How are we going to respond to the adversity of not playing as well as we wanted to?
"Obviously (Arizona State) had a lot to do with that as well. But we've got to see how we come back tomorrow, and what kind of fire we have."