A three-run cushion with three outs to go.
That’s where Kentucky stood in the seventh inning on Saturday — three outs away from forcing a deciding Game 3. But the game took a dramatic shift when the Ducks rallied for four runs en route to a 6-5 victory to end the Cats’ season on Saturday at Jane Sanders Stadium.
The win sent Oregon (52-6), the tournament’s No. 3 seed, back to the College World Series in Oklahoma City for the fourth time in the last six seasons.
Kentucky Coach Rachel Lawson said Oregon has the tools to win it all.
“To see Oregon come back, that also showed why they’re such a good program. That was a little tough,” she said.
UK senior Meagan Prince surrendered the final four runs in relief. The Ducks roped four hits and used a Kentucky error to bounce the Cats from the postseason.
Down 5-2, Oregon’s Mia Camuso, a freshman, delivered the hit that eventually ended UK’s season. She sent a single down the left-field line, scoring two Ducks to turn a 5-4 Kentucky lead into a one-run deficit.
“It was special to get that hit because I’ve been struggling a little bit,” Camuso said.
Lawson said afterward that she considered making a pitching change, but stuck with Prince as the team’s senior pitcher. Prince had five saves before Saturday.
“You always kind of want the ball in someone’s hand that has that kind of experience,” Lawson said. “Obviously, I made the wrong choice this time looking back. ... I thought she could just dig down and give us one more pitch.”
Kentucky, seeded 14th in the tournament, couldn’t respond in the bottom half of the inning. Oregon pitcher Miranda Elish struck out two batters and forced a groundout to end the Cats’ season at 39-19.
“They fought tremendously hard today and really gave us a run for our money,” Oregon Coach Mike White said. “But our team just fought and fought and fought. It shows our character to come back.”
Kentucky appeared poised to force a Game 3 when Erin Rethlake, who started the game in the circle, clubbed a two-out, two-RBI single for a 5-2 UK lead. The Cats scored twice in the first and once in the fourth to build a 3-0 advantage.
Prince was charged with four runs in 2 2/3 innings in her final game for Kentucky. Rethlake allowed two runs, six hits and five walks in 4 1/3 innings of work. Neither pitcher recorded a strikeout.
Prince came on in relief of Rethlake in the fifth with the bases loaded and one out. The Ducks scored on an illegal pitch and an RBI grounder to cut the Cats’ lead to 3-2. Katie Reed had a hand in all three outs during the inning, including a nifty play to get Prince out of the jam.
“Our defense was very good, they just got us today,” Rethlake said.
Abbey Cheek blasted her team-leading 13th home run of the season during the fourth on an elevated offering from Oregon starter Maggie Balint for a 3-0 lead.
Kentucky scored in the first when Reed singled and scored on a single by Brooklin Hinz, who advanced on an error. Hinz scored on a double to left field by Alex Martens, who was 2-for-4 at the plate.
Despite the super regional sweep, Lawson said she’s eager to see how her young team — 14 of which are freshmen or sophomores — respond in the coming months.
Reed echoed her coach’s sentiment after the game.
“Obviously our goal was the World Series, so it’s still disappointing,” Reed said. “But it gives us something to work harder for next year.”