By Rob Moseley
Familiar turf beckons for the Oregon softball team this weekend, and for two of the three teams the Ducks welcome to Howe Field for NCAA Regional play.
The top-seeded team in the national field, Oregon opens Regionals on Friday at 5 p.m. against Utah Valley, which was swept at Howe Field less than three weeks ago. Should the Ducks advance, they could face Wisconsin, the team Oregon vanquished to win its Regional at home a year ago.
The Badgers host Albany on Friday at 2 p.m. Tickets are available on GoDucks.com, and Pac-12 Networks will televise all Oregon games in the double-elimination Regional that continues Saturday and Sunday.
“The team really rises to the occasion playing at home,” said UO coach Mike White, whose Ducks are 14-2-1 at home, with loses to then-No. 1 UCLA and then-No. 3 Arizona State. “It’s fun. We’re excited.”
The Wolverines of Utah Valley went 14-40 in the regular season, with losses by scores of 8-0 and 5-4 at Oregon on April 29. But they completed a perfect four-game run through the WAC Tournament to qualify for NCAAs, upsetting top-seeded New Mexico State twice.
Karissa Hovinga threw five one-hit innings to beat the Wolverines in their first game at Oregon. The Ducks needed a sixth-inning run to break a 4-4 tie in the second game, with Cheridan Hawkins earning the win after three perfect innings of relief that included eight strikeouts.
Hawkins will get the ball to start Friday’s game, as the Ducks intend to ride the left arm of the Pac-12 pitcher of the year throughout the weekend. Hawkins said she’s ready for a heavy workload; the potential for as many as five games this weekend is still two fewer than the seven games she pitched a few weekends while in high school.
“My approach is, I’m willing to do whatever needs to be done for the team,” Hawkins said. “If you need me to pitch 30 innings this weekend, or 50, I’m going to do it. If you need me to pitch three, I’m going to do that too. … I’ll be ready for anything.”
Oregon’s hitters also will have had the luxury of at-bats against the pitchers they figure to face this weekend. Utah Valley ace Josi Summers pitched in relief both games of the April doubleheader, allowed three runs on 10 hits and four walks across 8 2/3 innings.
Summers is 10-17 overall with a 4.04 ERA entering the Regional. She got hot in the WAC Tournament, posting a 1.62 ERA while allowing opposing batters to hit .135.
“You overlook a team like that (and) before you know it they get a good pitching performance going, it’s a close game and they can score some runs,” White said. “Anything can happen in this game. It can be awfully humbling.
“We know it’s not the best team that wins, it’s the team that plays the best.”
Against the Badgers last year, Hawkins started and threw four innings in Oregon’s 3-0 victory to clinch a trip to Super Regionals. Wisconsin starter Cassandra Darrah, who is 20-13 with a 3.35 ERA this spring, started that game at Oregon as well, allowing three runs on three hits, including a two-run home run by UO catcher Janelle Lindvall.