After a record-breaking 2012 campaign, Oregon head coach Mike White and the Ducks celebrated one of their greatest seasons with a second-ever World Series trip (and first in 24 years).
Yet in 2013, the Ducks feel like there’s still unfinished business after a third-place Pac-12 finish and pair of No. 5 year-end rankings.
Expectations have obviously changed, and the team’s deepest roster ever fuel even higher ambitions. In the preseason polls, UO was tabbed No. 5 and No. 6 by the NFCA and USA Softball, and also received its highest-ever Pac-12 Coaches Poll pick (third).
“With our success and consistency, people across the country believe that we belong among the nation’s best teams,” White said. “We still we have a lot of work to do this year, especially with our defense. This year we have a deeper pitching staff, infield and lineup, so things look good on paper, but we have to put it together on the field and play like champions consistently.”
This season’s 19-person roster is one of its most decorated and features two All-Americans – senior outfielder Samantha Pappas and senior pitcher Jessica Moore.
The duo were honored to All-Region Teams with senior second baseman Kaylan Howard, and the junior trio of catcher Alexa Peterson, first baseman Kailee Cuico and infielder Courtney Ceo. Three of them were also All-Pac-12 honorees in ‘12, while center fielder Janie Takeda was an All-Pac-12 Freshman Team choice.
In Oregon’s postseason run, Pappas and Peterson continued to shine on the nation’s biggest stage, and were honored to the 2012 Women’s College World Series All-Tournament Team.
The future shines even brighter for the Ducks who welcome an impressive newcomer class that featured four players on the ESPN.com Top 100 list – third-most nationally. That quartet included catcher Janelle Lindvall (#9), infielder Danica Mercado (#27), pitcher Cheridan Hawkins (#11) and utility player Koral Costa (#63).
Factor in another challenging schedule against a host of NCAA tourney-tested opponents and the nation’s top softball conference, and Duck fans have plenty to be excited about again this season.
Junior first baseman Kailee Cuico validated her first year in clean-up spot in the batting order in ’12 with top-10 all-time marks for the Ducks in RBI (third, 54), homers (seventh, 12) and walks (seventh, 31). She also knocked in nine game-winning RBI last year, and her RBI total (54) stood ninth overall in the Pac-12 and 54th nationally (0.89 p/g).
One of team’s steadiest and most dynamic with the glove, senior second baseman Kaylan Howard is one of its most reliable hitters, too. Thanks to last year’s career numbers in nearly every offensive category, she topped the team in homers (12-tied), doubles (17-tied), triples (2-tied), total bases (120) and game-winning RBI (10), and six of her GW-RBI came vs. NCAA qualifiers. She also ended the campaign ranked top 100 nationally in doubles (56th, 0.27 p/g) and RBI (77th, 0.84 p/g), and tied for the Pac-12 lead in doubles (17).
One of the team’s top triple threats offensively, junior Courtney Ceo enters 2013 ranked third all-time career-wise for UO in batting (.365). She missed the last seven weeks of the season with an injury, yet still stood third on the team in stolen bases (10) and on-base percentage (.431), fourth in longest reached base streak (14 games), and fifth in multi-hit games (14-tied).
She has anchored the left side of the infield with 69 starts at third base the past two seasons, and is the natural choice to step in at shortstop after the graduation of All-Pac-12 pick Kelsey Chambers. Ceo's career batting average (.365) tops Duck returnees and stands third-best all-time for UO.
Sophomores Hannah Melick and Jamie Rae Sullivan were two of the team’s top newcomers in 2012, and are primed to again play key roles.
Melick quickly adjusted to collegiate pitching, and paced the team in pinch-hits (5) and pinch-hitting (.250), and also led Duck newcomers in homers (2), RBI (14), slugging (.396) and multi-RBI games (4). Sullivan topped Duck frosh infielders in starts (18) – 16 of which were at third base – thanks to her strong glove and accurate arm.
Freshman Stevie Jo Knapp could be one of the team’s most powerful additions at the plate and has the versatility to play multiple infield positions. The talented Southern California product was a four-time, all-league pick, and played for several top club teams (Strike Force Gold, American Pastime Gold, OC Batbusters and So Cal Bombers).
Freshman Koral Costa was a three-time L.A. City Section and all-league choice, and topped her prep team in batting as a senior (.487, 3 HR, 19 RBI, 12 doubles, 12 stolen bases). On the summer club circuit, her Firecrackers squad placed second in the 2011 Premier Girls Fastpitch tournament, and took first in the Colorado Fireworks and Canadian Open tournaments in both 2010 and ’11.
Freshman Danica Mercado was a California all-state pick in 2011 and a three-year all-league choice. As a junior, she paced the team in hitting .522, and swiped 23 stolen bases after similar statistics as a sophomore (.476, 16 stolen bases). Her So Cal Athletics club team won the 2011 18U Premier Girls Fastpitch tournament and the 2010 ESPN Rise National Tournament.
Freshman Karine Shaver could see time at multiple positions after she helped her Kamehameha prep team earn the Hawai’i state tourney third seed in the 2012. The smooth-fielding shortstop led her squad her junior season in RBI (21), extra-base hits (12) and fielding (.966).
“Courtney’s return from an injury is a big plus for us,” White said. “Her bat and glove are key, and she proved her dedication to getting healthy again by leading our speed agility testing in the winter. Karine has shown us good defense in the preseason and gives us good depth behind her. Kaylan has always been a key presence for us defensively and offensively, and Danica offers similar potential. Kailee is a likely choice to start at first base, but could play other places too, and Hannah saw plenty of time there, too, as a freshman. Third Base is the lone position without a set starter going into the season, so it sets up great opportunity for Koral, Jamie Ray and Stevie Jo to show us what they are capable of.”
Last year, senior Jessica Moore firmly positioned herself among the nation’s best pitchers with another record-setting year. Oregon’s first All-American in the circle reset her school record for strikeouts (256) in ‘12. She also ranked second in the nation’s top conference in wins (33), including 16 vs. top-25 foes (and every league rival).
Before the start of the season, she is already the school career record for wins (73) and strikeouts (718), and owns its other two, top-three season strikeout totals (238, second ‘10; 224, third, ‘11). Among her top performances, she tied her career strikeout high (14) last March vs. eventual national champion Alabama. She has always been key for the Ducks in the postseason, and has pitched 116 of the team’s 127 innings the last three years, and started all 18 games.
Sophomore Karissa Hovinga posted a busy freshman collegiate campaign, then boosted the Canadian National Team to a fourth-place finish in the ISF World Championships with a pair of wins (and 16 strikeouts in 17.1 innings).
During the spring for UO, she staked 12 wins and appeared in 30 games – nearly half of the team’s 65 contests. She showed her strength with wins in both games of doubleheaders vs. NCAA qualifier Portland State and Seattle. She ended with four shutouts, and another key win vs. postseason veteran Illinois State.
Freshman Cheridan Hawkins was tabbed a prep All-American last year after she posted a 28-5 record and 0.69 ERA. The two-time Northern Section MVP fanned 440 batters in 203 innings, and ended with nine no-hitters, 32 complete games and 20 shutouts. In club action, her Strike Zone Elite club placed fifth in the 2011 Premier National Fastpitch Tournament in Huntington Beach.
“We expect big things from Jess again, and hopefully with our depth she can get a little more rest this year and take us a little deeper in the postseason,” White said. “Karissa pitched well both for us and for Team Canada against world champion Japan in the World Tournament. Cheridan has a bright future, and broke Jess’s California section strikeout record.”
Junior Alexa Peterson comes off two of Oregon’s greatest offensive seasons among catchers. In the team’s three games last June in Oklahoma City, she ranked second among all World Series players in hitting (.429-tied) and on-base percentage (.556), while her five game-winning RBI on the season was fourth-most on the team.
As a freshman in ’11, she received the team’s Defensive MVP honor after handling of one nation’s top pitching staffs, and her .356 Pac-12 batting average was the team’s best in league action. Also was a leader in the classroom, she received Capital One Academic All-District First Team and Pac-12 All-Academic Second Team honors last spring.
Balancing out one of the nation’s top catcher combos, freshman Janelle Lindvall was honored as an Under Armour Prep All-American in 2012. Her maturity and strong arm helped her Worth Firecrackers squad place second in 2011, and wins in the Colorado Fireworks and Canada Cup tournaments in 2010 and ‘11, the same Colorado event in 2009, and the ASA Gold Nationals in 2009.
“Alexa was one of our MVP's last year as far as driving in runs in key situations,” White said. “Janelle has stepped in and has shown she’s ready to play at this level, too. She has a quick release to second base and has good skills with both the bat and glove. The competition behind the plate will really help us, because you can’t rely on just one catcher to be a World Series team.”
When the Pac-12 and postseason heated up in ’12, so did senior Samantha Pappas – the Ducks’ first All-America outfielder.
By year’s end, the second-team national selection tied for the league lead in doubles (17), and also stood second in stolen bases (22-tied), fourth in total bases (124-tied), fifth in batting (.393), sixth in hits (70) and seventh in slugging (.697). Not surprisingly, she also ended the year ranked top 100 nationally in four categories – doubles (56th, 0.27 p/g), slugging (61st, .697), batting (63rd, .393) and stolen bases (81st, 0.35 p/g).
Senior Allie Burger has been a potent hitter and threat on the base paths, and a former All-Pac-12 Freshman and All-Region Team pick. The center and left fielder has made 158 starts in her career, and her season-high batting average (.387) in 2010 was only .01 shy of a Duck top-10 ranking for top season marks.
Last season, sophomore Janie Takeda followed her lead, and was the team’s top addition at the top of the lineup and started 58 games in center field. She led the squad in sacrifice bunts (10), and ranked second in stolen bases (16) and third in hits (60) and multi-hit games (15). She was equally impressive in the stretch run with a .346 hitting postseason mark, and two key eighth-inning stolen bases and game-winning run in the first NCAA Super Regional win at Texas.
Another key addition, sophomore Sara Goodrum was the only Duck to play all three outfield positions last spring and ranked third on the squad in games as a sub (19). As a prep, she was an Arizona All-Class 5A state team honorable mention and 5A all-region pick as a sophomore, junior and senior, and helped her team to state titles her junior and senior years.
The team looks forward to the return of redshirt freshman Alyssa Gillespie – a former Gatorade State 6A Prep Player of the Year and three all-state honoree. She led her Glencoe prep team to state titles her first three prep seasons and a quarterfinal finish as a senior, and was the Qwest State Championship Player of the Game as a sophomore.
Several other utility players could also vie for action in left field, including freshman utility player Koral Costa. She was ranked #63 on the ESPN.com top recruits list and offers one of the team’s top bats among newcomers.
“Sam was our leading hitter last year, and Janie wasn’t too far behind her,” White said. “They both have two of our best arms, so those two spots are basically spoken for, but there will be a lot of competition in left field between a mix of older and younger players who are all gifted in many ways.”
To prepare for the postseason, the Ducks point towards another impressive schedule with 33 of their 56 games vs. NCAA returnees.
Among Oregon’s 16 foes that made the postseason in ’12, four advanced to the World Series – national runner-up Oklahoma, Arizona State, California and LSU.
Three others were Super Regional qualifiers (Arizona, Michigan, Washington), four more were NCAA Regional finalists (Florida, Oregon State, San Diego State, Stanford) and five others were NCAA tourney qualifiers (Hawai’i, Long Beach State, Long Island, Portland State and UCLA).
The Ducks kick off the season vs. Western Michigan in the Kajikawa Classic tournament in Tempe, Ariz., on Thursday, February 7. In the subsequent five weeks, UO’s 32-game non-conference slate will also include tournaments in Las Vegas (Louisville Slugger Classic, February 15-17), Palm Springs, Calif. (Cathedral City Classic, February 22-24), Orlando, Fla. (Citrus Classic, March 1-3) and Fresno, Calif. (Bayer Cropscience Classic, March 8-9).
“The conference will be extremely strong again this year,” White said. “We’re all chasing top eight postseason bids to get the home seeds through the Super Regional, so the competition is really high. We have a great preseason to help prepare us for conference and posteason play.”
UO’s first home tilt is against returning New Mexico on Wednesday, March 13, and its other non-league tilts will be doubleheaders at Portland State (4/16) and at home vs. Seattle (5/1).
Oregon opens Pac-12 play at home vs. Stanford, Saturday-Monday, March 23-25, and has three other league homestands vs. Utah (4/2-3), Arizona (4/12-14) and Oregon State (5/3-5). UO’s other league series will be at Washington (3/28-30), California (4/6-7), UCLA (4/26-27) and Arizona State (5/9-11).
Fans across the nation will get their chance to cheer on the Ducks during the regular slate with eight conference games televised by Pac-12 Networks, including tilts vs. NCAA tourney veterans Stanford (3/24), Washington (3/29), California (4/7), Arizona (4/14), Oregon State (5/3, 5/5) and Arizona State (5/10, 5/11).
On Friday-Sunday, May 16-19 the 64-team NCAA Tournament kicks off with regional play at 16 sites nationally. Super Regional action follows the next weekend at eight sites, Thursday-Saturday, May 23-26, and the Women’s College World Series, returns to Oklahoma City, Okla., on May 30-June 5.
UO CAREER LEADERS
3. Courtney Ceo .365
4. Samantha Pappas .358
7. Samantha Pappas 30
10 Kaylan Howard 25
8. Samantha Pappas 72
8. Samantha Pappas 120
10. Samantha Pappas 49
1. Jessica Moore 73
1. Jessica Moore 718
5. Jessica Moore 15
UO SEASON LEADERS
9. 393 Samantha Pappas 2012
7t 70 Samantha Pappas 2012
2t. 17 Samantha Pappas 2012
2t. 17 Kaylan Howard 2012
7t. 12 Kaylan Howard 2012
7t. 12 Kailee Cuico 2012
1t. 31 Kaylan Howard 2012
3t. 30 Samantha Pappas 2012
Runs Batted In
3. 54 Kailee Cuico 2012
4. 52 Kaylan Howard 2012
5. 48 Samantha Pappas 2012
3. 124 Samantha Pappas 2012
4. 120 Kaylan Howard 2012
5. .697 Samantha Pappas 2012
10. .638 Christie Nieto 2012
7. 31 Kailee Cuico 2012
9. 30 Christie Nieto 2012
9. 22 Samantha Pappas 2012
1. 256 Jessica Moore 2012
2. 238 Jessica Moore 2010
3. 224 Jessica Moore 2011
2. 33 Jessica Moore 2012
4t. 24 Jessica Moore 2011
2. 47 Jessica Moore 2012
- www.GoDucks.com -