by Rob Moseley
For six innings Sunday at Howe Field, Mike White played chessmaster of the Oregon softball team, moving pieces around to put the Ducks in position for a sweep of Washington.
In the top of the fifth inning, White pulled his starting pitcher, even though she had allowed just three hits and had the lead. In the bottom of the fifth, the UO coach bunted with his cleanup hitter to put a runner on third with one out.
Yet there the Ducks were in the bottom of the seventh, trailing by one to the No. 5 Huskies. Alexa Peterson walked with one out, bringing to the plate all-time UO home run hitter Kailee Cuico. With few coaching buttons left to push, White sat back and watched as Cuico blasted a walk-off home run to give No. 2 Oregon a 4-3 victory and its first ever sweep of Washington.
"One of the best coaches I ever knew said, 'Sometimes you can try and do too much,' and I think that may have been the case," White said. "You want to win it just as bad as the players do, sometimes you try to do too many things. In that case, you get a runner on, let's go for the long ball. Kailee stood in there, saw the ball and did a great job."
The victory gave the Ducks (30-4, 6-0 Pac-12) their fifth straight win over the Huskies, who still hold a dominant 50-22 lead in the all-time series. Oregon's sweep also came over a key rival for the Pac-12 title, and should boost the Ducks' chance of hosting postseason play.
"It's so big for us, especially as a senior class," Cuico said. "We've never (swept UW). We've been here and won the series (2013) or split it (2012), but it means so much to do it at home, and as seniors especially it means so much to all of us."
Cuico, a senior first baseman from Carson, Calif., hit her team-leading seventh home run of the season, and the 40th of her career, extending the UO record she set earlier this season.
Having struck out with a runner at third following Peterson's bunt in the fifth, Cuico was 0-for-1 with two walks before coming to the plate in the seventh. She crushed a foul ball off the UO Student Tennis Center down the left-field line, and on the next pitch lined her walk-off shot to right-center.
"I was thinking changeup," Cuico said. "But I just had to remind myself, just see it all the way there. Don't get overhyped, don't get overexcited. Stay really small. And it paid off."
The walk-off capped an otherwise frustrating offensive performance by the Ducks, for the most part. They loaded the bases in the first and put a runner on third in both the third and fifth innings. But until Cuico's home run, Oregon's only offense was a two-run double by Alyssa Gillespie in the second.
"Credit our team," White said. "We could have folded there and given up, and we didn't. We came back."
Washington got within 2-1 in the third when a wild pitch by Karissa Hovinga brought a run in. She otherwise kept the Huskies off the scoreboard through 4 1/3 innings, when White called on left-hander Cheridan Hawkins — the winner of both games in Saturday's doubleheader — to face a series of UW lefties.
Instead, UW strung together three straight hits for the tying run, and went up 3-2 in the seventh when leadoff hitter Whitney Jones doubled and eventually scored on a sacrifice fly.
That set the stage for Cuico, who got Hawkins (18-2) off the hook and gave the Ducks their historic sweep of the Huskies.
"This is huge," White said. "Even if it wasn't Washington, this is the No. 5 team in the country. To get a game like this and a series sweep is huge."