The University of Kentucky softball team had a chance to clinch the program's second trip to the Women's College World Series on Friday night after upsetting host Oregon in Thursday's opening game of the best-of-three Eugene Super Regional.
But Kentucky ran into a buzz saw on Friday in the form of Ducks star pitcher Miranda Elish. With the season on the line, the sophomore right-hander confounded the Cats and led Oregon to a 6-1 win, forcing a decisive Game 3. The series finale was scheduled to begin at 9 p.m. EDT Saturday and was to air on ESPN. The winner will move on to the Women's College World Series in Oklahoma City.
Elish tossed a complete-game gem, allowing just two hits while striking out seven and walking none. She showed off pinpoint control in the circle all night, routinely painting the corners of the strike zone. She retired the Cats in order in five innings and at one point struck out five straight batters. Elish improved to 23-1 on the season and 35-1 over the course of her two years at Oregon.
“Miranda threw one heck of a performance to keep us in this,” Oregon Coach Mike White told the Register-Guard newspaper in Eugene. “You could tell we were fighting for our lives.”
Kentucky's pitchers held their own for most of the game, but a four-run fourth inning by the Ducks proved to be the decisive blow. After UK starting pitcher Grace Baalman issued two walks, Oregon's Shannon Rhodes singled to load the bases. Erin Rethlake replaced Baalman and gave up a two-run single up the middle.
Another run scored when center fielder Brooklin Hinz overthrew third base. Her throw ended up in the UK dugout and officials sent an Oregon runner from second base to home on the play. UK Coach Rachel Lawson came out of the dugout to seek clarification on the call and was soon joined on the field by Oregon Coach Mike White. At one point both coaches were arguing with two different officials at the same time. When the dust settled the call was upheld. The Ducks stretched the lead to 4-0 with their third hit of the inning.
Kentucky (35-20) got on the board in the bottom of the fourth when Jenny Schaper led off with an infield single and later scored on Alex Martens' sacrifice fly. Hinz struck out on the next at-bat, leaving two runners on base and ending UK's biggest threat of the night. The Cats managed just one more hit the rest of the way. Oregon (51-8) added two insurance runs in the top of the sixth on a two-out double by Jenna Lilley.
“Oregon did a great job responding today,” Lawson told the Register-Guard. “I thought their pitcher looked great and did a good job pounding the zone.”