by Rob Moseley
Less than 24 hours later, Hawkins and Hovinga teamed to compose a masterpiece of their own. The Ducks duo combined to allow one run on two hits as the UO softball team opened NCAA Regional play with a 12-1 victory over Utah Valley in five innings at Howe Field.
Hawkins struck out five of the seven batters she faced over two innings, while Oregon put up an eight-run first inning and three more in the second. That gave UO coach Mike White the luxury of pulling Hawkins to save her for the two-time Pac-12 champs' next game in the regional, Saturday against Wisconsin at 11 a.m.
"Whenever we can spare Cheridan some innings, I feel very confident in Karissa coming in to do the job," White said. "… It's just great to give Cheridan some rest."
Much of the credit for that goes to Oregon's hitters, who batted around in the first inning and were so prolific that leadoff hitter Courtney Ceo's third at-bat came in the second inning. Eight of nine Ducks scored on their first trip through the order, and Alyssa Gillespie had two hits in the first inning, the second a two-run single that capped the rally.
Freshman shortstop Nikki Udria, playing in her first career postseason game, singled in a run and later scored in the first, then cleared the bases with a three-run double in the second. The four RBIs matched Udria's career high.
"The first inning at least, when we were out there it was a little jittery," Udria said. "Emotions were running high. After that first inning, when we got out of it 1-2-3 and then Courtney came up to bat, that's when it pretty much settled in — 'wow, this is awesome.'"
Udria said the Ducks were pleased to put together a dominating performance against Utah Valley (18-41), which was swept in a doubleheader at Oregon last month but lost the second game by a single run.
Oregon, the top-ranked team in the nation and No. 1 seed in the tournament, can advance to Sunday's regional final with a win over the Badgers on Saturday morning. A loss would force the Ducks to play against Saturday, at 5 p.m.
White is hopeful Friday's commanding win will provide some momentum for the rest of the weekend.
"Winning is contagious; getting good at-bats is contagious," White said. "I like the enthusiasm from our team."