OKLAHOMA CITY — The third-seeded Oregon Ducks matched their deepest run at the Women’s College World Series, but couldn’t surpass it.
With a 4-2 loss to defending-champion Oklahoma on Sunday afternoon at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium, the Ducks’ season came to a close two wins shy of the championship series.
While Oregon coach Mike White emphasized his appreciation of the 54-win season his players had just completed, and his excitement for the future of his young team, he also opened up about his frustration stemming from what appeared to be a costly missed call by an umpire.
Oregon led 2-0 in the bottom of the fifth inning when Oklahoma’s Lea Wodach reached base and advanced to second on a throwing error by Oregon catcher Gwen Svekis after fielding a bunt that looked to be in foul territory.
“This tournament keeps getting better and better, but one thing I would like to see going forward — and I think this tournament really illustrated it — is the need for instant replay, the need for an ability to make a challenge,” White said. “There’s been so many games decided by some calls that could’ve gone — that I think were incorrect calls, to be quite frank.
“This game is played at a high speed. Umpires are human. You should have the ability to challenge a call.”
Wodach had two strikes when she bunted, and would’ve been out had the ball been called foul.
“Obviously, we didn’t help ourselves, don’t get me wrong,” White said. “We’re human, too. But I think the need for a challenge is sorely needed. Hopefully we will look at that.”
Svekis, who picked up the ball and immediately threw to first base, declined to comment on whether she thought the ball was foul, but took responsibility for her mistake.
“I’ve made that play 1,000 times in my life and I’ll probably make it 1,000 more, but it just wasn’t meant to be today,” she said.
“I need to make that play next time. Fair or foul, I know I can make that play. I didn’t want to play umpire.”
Taking advantage of the opportunity, Oklahoma’s potent offense went to work.
Kelsey Arnold followed with a single, then stole second base. On Nicole Mendes’ grounder to shortstop, Oregon’s Nikki Udria tried to throw out the runner at home, but pinch-runner Reagan Rogers beat the throw.
After a sacrifice bunt moved runners to second and third, Oklahoma’s Shay Knighten blooped a single into shallow right field to score them both to give the Sooners a 3-2 lead. Knighten scored on a double by Nicole Pendley for a 4-2 Oklahoma advantage.
The Sooners turned to closer Paige Lowary, who worked two perfect innings to end the Ducks’ season.
Through the first four innings of the pitching duel between Oregon’s Megan Kleist (21-4) and Oklahoma’s Paige Parker (26-5), it felt like one big hit might be the difference.
But Danica Mercado’s two-run home run off Parker in the top of the fifth inning turned out to be only a brief moment of control for Oregon before the fateful bottom half of the inning.
“I think this is a really big learning experience for the underclassmen coming back,” said Kleist, a sophomore. “We can use this and let it fire us to be better next year, and know that we actually tasted the chance to actually get to the end.
“Just come back next year stronger. Work on our weaknesses that were shown in this last game, in this whole tournament. Just be better than we were this year.”
— Scott Wright for The Oregonian/OregonLive