By Rob Moseley
As a communication disorders and sciences major at the university, Oregon senior softball player Alexa Peterson had to tackle a course called neuroanatomy during the winter quarter.
No wonder, then, that upon the completion of the term, Peterson enjoyed a breakout weekend, hitting .857 with 13 RBIs in a three-game sweep of Utah last week. So long, neuroanatomy, hello, neutron blasts deep into the outfield.
“That was nice, just to be able to have that weight off my chest,” Peterson said. “I was able to focus solely on softball and have fun out there.”
The good vibes will continue for the second-ranked Ducks this weekend, when they play their home opener following a nearly two-month road trip to open the season. Oregon went 27-4 over that stretch, prior to opening the home slate with a scheduled 3 p.m. first pitch against Washington at Howe Field on Friday.
“It’s really nice,” UO pitcher Cheridan Hawkins said. “We’ve been on the road quite a bit, and we’ve really been looking forward to this. You know what to expect, you know what the field’s like, you know the routine. It’s a little bit more of a relaxed environment.”
The Ducks can’t afford to relax too much, given the presence of the No. 5 Huskies this weekend. Washington is 21-7 overall and 2-3 in the Pac-12, with a .336 team average that’s just below Oregon’s .340, and a 1.37 staff ERA that’s slightly ahead of the Ducks’ 1.65.
Bryana Walker has been in the circle for the majority of UW’s games, compiling a 13-4 record with a 1.11 ERA. The movement of her repertoire is complemented by the velocity of No. 2 starter Kaitlin Inglesby (6-2, 1.73).
The Ducks will remain at home the following weekend against No. 1UCLA (28-2, 5-1), bringing two top-five opponents to Eugene in two weeks.
“This is the cream of the crop,” UO coach Mike White said.
Oregon boasts the Pac-12 leader in hits, Courtney Ceo with 47, while Hawkins (15-2, 0.99) is second in the conference with 171 strikeouts. Oregon’s hitters supported Hawkins and the rest of the staff with 34 runs in three games against Utah last week, led by Peterson’s productive weekend.
“Pitchers went out there and held them, and then we had the offense hitting and hitting and hitting,” Hawkins said. “Even if we didn’t score a run, we had two or three people on every inning. It was awesome.”
After the series at Utah, Oregon remained on the road Tuesday, beating Southern Utah for White’s 200th win with the Ducks, before losing to BYU. The Ducks’ fourth loss came in their 31st game of the year, the best UO start since 36-4 in 2007.
“We work so hard in the offseason, we’d really like to see the fruits of our hard work,” Peterson said. “So, yes, we were expecting to do this well, and it’s great to see we actually came through with that.”
White enters this weekend 200-70 in five seasons with the Ducks, after getting win No. 200 in Tuesday.
“It just means I’ve been here a little longer,” he joked. “But I couldn’t have done it without some great players and a great coaching staff, and the support of the University of Oregon. They’ve been behind me all the way.”