by Rob Moseley
For as impressive as her leadoff homer in the bottom of the first was, Courtney Ceo's quintessential at-bat Saturday was her second.
There was a runner on second and none out in the second inning of Oregon's NCAA Super Regional game against Minnesota. Ceo, the speedy UO third baseman who is among the nation's best hitters, sent a groundball to the shortstop. The fielder took a moment to check the baserunner at second — a critical error with Ceo flying up the line.
The throw to first was late, and Ceo was safe. It was only then that the Ducks' own shortstop, Nikki Udria, broke from second. Two errors by the Gophers later, Udria and Ceo had both come around to score on the play, breaking open a game No. 1 Oregon would ultimately win 10-2 in six innings, before a Howe Field record 1,954 fans.
"That's what we do," UO coach Mike White said. "We try to create havoc in the infield. We try to create pressure however we can."
The Ducks (53-7-1) were unfazed by the pressure of being the No. 1 seed in the postseason. They were undeterred by the lingering emotions of last season's Super Regional loss at home. This weekend brings their fifth straight Super Regional appearance, and the Ducks won the opening game for the first time.
They can move on to the Women's College World Series with a win Sunday at 2 p.m., or in a third game at 5 p.m. should the Gophers even the series.
"I don't know what tomorrow brings, other than the fact it's a new day," White said. "Every game's different, and we've got to go out there and work the process."
About the only time pressure did get to the Ducks was in the top of the first. Sophomore ace Cheridan Hawkins retired the first batter of the game, then allowed three straight to reach, with the Gophers pushing across a run.
"This was my first start ever in a Super Regional, so yeah, obviously I was a little bit nervous," said Hawkins, who improved to 32-4 with the complete game victory. "But I think after the first inning I settled in a little bit better."
It didn't even take that long. After the one-out RBI single by Minnesota, White made a visit to the mound. Hawkins responded by striking out the next two hitters to end the inning. Then she watched Oregon's offense, with its gamebreaking speed, go to work.
Ceo evened the score at 1-1 with her leadoff homer. In the second, Kailee Cuico and Karine Shaver led off with infield singles, and came around on Udria's double. That set the stage for Ceo's single on which she scored on the two errors, making it 5-1.
In the third, Koral Costa and Alexa Peterson led off with singles, and moved up on a fielder's choice. Shaver and Udria then followed with balls that didn't leave the infield — but neither did they result in outs, as the Ducks scored on both at-bats. Shaver later scored on a Ceo sacrifice fly.
"As long as we can get on base, we can use our speed to move ourselves around," Ceo said. "Just to get on base is our goal."
The game ended in the sixth due to the eight-run rule. Ceo singled to up her season average to an NCAA-leading .492 and Alyssa Gillespie followed with a walk — after Ceo stole second, the Ducks' fourth steal of the night. Ceo came around to score on the fourth Minnesota error of the game, and Janelle Lindvall's walk-off single scored Gillespie.
Afterward, White was noncommittal about whether Hawkins will start Sunday's first game, or Karissa Hovinga would get the call. An announcement about his decision was about the only thing that didn't come quickly for the Ducks over the course of a Saturday evening in which Oregon's team speed proved decisive.