by Rob Moseley
The Oregon softball team remains unfazed by its No. 1 national ranking
Even if the Ducks weren't quite at their best early, Oregon closed out a three-game sweep of Cal with a 7-2 victory Saturday at Howe Field. The Ducks remained unbeaten in six games as the country's top-ranked team, using a four-run sixth inning to break open the game.
It was Oregon's second ever sweep of the Golden Bears, though it ended a run of four straight games decided prematurely by the eight-run rule.
"Our intensity wasn't quite there from the get-go," UO coach Mike White said. "But as long as we end up in the win column, it's a good day."
The Ducks (40-5, 14-1 Pac-12) never trailed, taking a 2-0 lead in the second on an RBI double by Koral Costa and a run-scoring single from Karine Shaver. Oregon tacked on an unearned run in the fifth for a 3-1 lead, then exploded for four in the sixth after Cal (22-20, 4-9) closed within 3-2.
Janie Takeda walked to drive in a run in the sixth, Kailee Cuico followed with a two-run double and Alexa Peterson was later hit by a pitch with the bases loaded. That provided some cushion for UO reliever Jasmine Smithson-Willett, who took over for starter Cheridan Hawkins (24-3) in the fifth.
The Ducks played errorless defense for the sixth straight game, keeping their focus sharp in the field even if they weren't as overpowering at the plate as in the previous four games.
"It's always a grind," said Takeda, who made a running, over-the-shoulder catch in left field in the seventh. "I was a little tired this morning; it's just natural to feel that way. It's good to remind yourself that it's just a game; the game doesn't know we're supposed to win, so you've got to work as hard as you can every time we step on the field."
Hawkins, who dominated the Golden Bears in the series opener Thursday, hit a batter in the first inning Saturday, then allowed a home run and two walks in the third.
The Ducks beat Cal starter Stephanie Trzcinski for the second straight day, after chasing her during their 15-run fourth inning Friday. It took a bit longer to break through with a big inning Saturday, though Oregon finally did so in the sixth.
"We were making it different today," Cuico said. "We got a little ahead of ourselves, taking good pitches and then swinging at bad ones. When we played loose in the last inning, people were really seeing good pitches."
The Ducks now travel to Stanford for a three-game series beginning Friday. Like Oregon State last week and then Cal, the Cardinal are in the bottom half of the Pac-12 standings, but White knows his team must remain vigilant.
"We can't get too far ahead of ourselves, because if we do, we're going to end up stumbling, and we don't want to do that," White said. "I don't think we're going to go the rest of the season without a loss; it's going to happen sooner or later, and when it does we'll treat it the same way we do a win. That's a big message we're trying to get through, is not to get too high or too low."