By Rob Moseley
For several months now, the Oregon softball team has been on the “Road to OKC,” metaphorically speaking. On Tuesday, the Ducks made their dream a reality.
At about 11:30 a.m., a bus carrying UO coach Mike White and his team pulled away from the Oregon athletics complex. The Ducks caught a charter flight out of Eugene an hour or so later, and were scheduled to arrive in Oklahoma City for this week’s Women’s College World Series around three hours after that.
Excitement among the players was tangible as they boarded the bus. They'd like to be gone for more than a week, with the top-seeded Ducks set to open WCWS play Thursday against No. 8 Florida State, beginning an odyssey they hope to continue through the three-game championship series that starts Monday.
“You definitely want to enjoy it, but you also want to go out with a bang,” sophomore pitcher Cheridan Hawkins said. “Finding that balance is super important, and hopefully we’ll be able to do that.”
The Ducks were scheduled to attend a banquet Tuesday evening, at which the national player of the year will be announced. Wednesday’s schedule includes several media obligations bracketing two hours of practice, one of which will be held at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium, the game site.
“It’s just fun,” White said. “It’s really exciting to see your name on the banner. You’re one of the eight participants in the College World Series. It’s probably something they’ve dreamed about as little girls.
“(But) hopefully we can take this in stride, go down there and play our game.”
The Ducks are making their second WCWS trip in three years, after being eliminated in three games in 2012. Oregon lost to Pac-12 foe Arizona State, 3-1, before winning an elimination game over Tennessee, 3-1. Another Pac-12 rival, California then sent the Ducks home, 6-3.
This time around, Oregon is the only conference representative. Arizona, Washington and UCLA all were eliminated in the Super Regional round.
“We want to carry the flag for the Pac-12,” White said.
Several current Ducks got invaluable experience in Oklahoma City two years ago. Senior outfielder Alexa Peterson had a hit in all three games, and junior outfielder Janie Takeda also started all three. Kailee Cuico had a pair of hits in the win over Tennessee.
Senior third baseman Courtney Ceo said the upperclassmen on this year’s team have been preparing younger players for what this week will hold.
“We can tell them what to expect, and the feelings they’re going to have – how to overcome those feelings of nervousness,” Ceo said. “It’s an advantage that we have people who can relay that information.”
Ceo wasn’t able to play two years ago, while recovering from a knee injury. Thus, Oregon’s leading hitter is eager to make her mark this time around.
“I can’t wait to get on the field, and take it as if it’s any other game,” Ceo said. “I’m just excited to play in front of the fans and my family and all that.”
As a sophomore, Hawkins wasn’t on the 2012 team. But she has played in Oklahoma City, with a USA Softball national team.
“I think it’s going to be a fun environment,” Hawkins said. “Big crowd, that’s going to be awesome.”
That fun, awesome environment awaits the Ducks at the end of their “Road to OKC,” which they paved with a 54-win season this spring before completing the journey Tuesday.