Oregon’s revamped softball squad opened its 2023 season over the weekend at the Puerto Vallarta College Challenge tournament in Mexico. The Ducks had a successful if not overwhelming shake-down cruise, going 3 – 2 over the 5-game schedule and setting a good base to build on.
Game One – Thursday – Maryland 7, Oregon 3
Oregon got off to a slow start facing off against the Terrapins. Oregon starting pitcher Stevie Hansen – the only returning starter from 2022 – had control problems early. Of the first 5 Maryland batters Hansen faced, she walked two and hit two. Maryland had scored a run without so much as a base hit. Maryland then started hitting the ball, and Hansen was pulled with two outs in the first after giving up 5 runs on just 2 hits. Elise Sokolsky came on in relief and pitched the remainder of the game, allowing just 2 more runs over 5.1 innings. Oregon scored 3 runs over their 7 innings. Offensive leaders for Oregon were leadoff hitter Hanna Delgado (2-4), Kedre Luschar (2-3, RBI) and Paige Sinicki (3-3). Oregon also scored on a wild pitch and a caught stealing.
Some of the 2022 problems were in evidence in this first game. Last season, Oregon pitchers tended to give up runs in bunches, and the Ducks batters sometimes could not put together enough hits to score runs and had difficulty overcoming early deficits.
Game Two – Friday – Oregon 4, Wisconsin 2
The Ducks gave their pitchers a lead in the second game, scoring 3 unearned runs in the bottom of the 2nd inning. Morgan Scott got the start for the Ducks and went 2.2 innings. Scott gave up back-to-back 2-out doubles – and a Wisconsin run – before being relieved by Sokolsky. Sokolsky got a strikeout to end the third inning and pitched a scoreless fourth. Oregon scored again in the bottom of the fourth when Alyssa Daniell led off the inning with a double. The next batter – Tehya Bird – reached first on a throwing error by the Wisconsin pitcher, and Kai Luschar, pinch running for Daniell, scored on the overthrow, giving Oregon a 4 -2 lead. In the fifth, however, a lead-off single off Sokolsky for Wisconsin brought on Reagan Breedlove and she pitched the remainder of the game without any additional damage to record the win.
For the game, Oregon had 7 hits and just one error, while Wisconsin committed 4 errors. Daniell was 2-3 at the plate, Delgado went 1-3 with an RBI. Kedre Luschar was 1-2 and also had an RBI.
Game Three – Friday – Oklahoma State 3, Oregon 0
The marquee matchup of the tournament for Oregon – at least in terms of quality of opponent – came against Oklahoma State. Hansen started her second game of the tournament and had a better outing, but still ultimately took the loss. She pitched 4 scoreless innings but was chased in the top of the 5th after giving up a hit and a walk. Breedlove again came on in relief and allowed 2 Cowgirl runs to score after walking the bases loaded and giving up an RBI single and walking in the second run. Sokolsky was Oregon’s 3rd pitcher in the inning and allowed one more Oklahoma State run on a sacrifice fly, which produced what would be the final score.
Oregon never really threatened to score much in this game, producing only 2 hits and 15 strikeouts against Cowgirl pitcher Kelly Maxwell who got the complete game shutout. The only Duck chance came in the 2nd when KK Humphreys led off the inning with a double and advanced to third on a Terra McGowan sacrifice fly to center. The two following batters struck out, however, ending that inning.
Game Four – Saturday – Oregon 9, Ole Miss 3
The Ducks got untracked offensively in their final game of the day, pounding out 12 hits against Ole Miss. Oregon scored twice with two outs in the top of the first to get off to a good start. The Ducks had two hits and a walk in the inning, and took advantage of an Ole Miss error to jump in front. Neither team could get much going, until Ole Miss scored a run in the bottom of the 4th. The Rebels took advantage of a passed ball and a walk to get into scoring position and scored on a 2-out single but wasted a chance for more runs as that batter was thrown out trying to stretch the single into a double. Oregon scored a singleton in the top of the 5th with some aggressive baserunning by Humphreys and Kedra Luschar who took extra bases on Ole Miss throws. Luschar scored on a groundout to shortstop and Oregon led 3 – 1.
Oregon’s big inning was the top of the 6th. The Ducks came out hot with a Paige Sinicki lead-off double, followed by a Vallery Wong triple down the left-field line, scoring Sinicki for a 4 – 1 Oregon lead. After a pop-up and a flyout sandwiched around an Ariel Carlson walk and steal of second, Humphreys reached base on a walk to load ‘em up. Allee Bunker then doubled to left center to clear the bases and give Oregon a 7 – 1 lead. The Ducks would get one more on an Alyssa Daniell single to right which plated Bunker for an 8 – 1 lead. The Ducks would get one more in the 7th and give up a couple of meaningless runs in the bottom of that inning to reach the final score.
Morgan Scott went 6 innings to get the win for Oregon, giving up just 6 hits and all 3 Rebel runs. Hansen came on in relief in the 7th and gave up just one hit. Good things happened virtually across the board for Oregon at the plate. Paige Sinicki had 3 hits and Allee Bunker 4 RBIs. Eight Oregon players had at least one hit. Alyssa Daniell was 2-3 with 2 RBI. Oregon did strand 8 baserunners, but ultimately didn’t need those runs.
Game Five – Sunday – Oregon 4, North Dakota State 3
The Ducks closed out their visit to Mexico with a close, late victory over the Bison. Oregon managed only 6 hits in this game but still led 2 – 1 going into the North Dakota State top of the 4th. Kedra Luschar opened the game with a single for the Ducks, stole second then was advanced to third on an unsuccessful fielder’s choice on an Allee Bunker hit. Bunker then stole 2nd, giving Oregon 2 on with just one out. Alyssa Daniell delivered a single, scoring Luschar and advancing Bunker to third. Unfortunately, Oregon couldn’t score again. The Bison evened the score due to an Oregon error followed by a double to plate that runner. Reagan Breedlove had started the game, but was relieved by Sokolsky after the North Dakota run and she closed out the inning with two harmless pop flies to second base.
Oregon retook the lead in its half of the third by again stringing together positive at-bats. After a ground out, KK Humphreys walked, Bunker singled and Daniell picked up another RBI with a 2-strike single to right field that brought Humphreys home. The Bison made a pitching change and a subsequent walk loaded the bases, but Oregon’s next two batters couldn’t get anything done, ending the inning.
The Bison took a 3 – 2 lead in the top of the 4th. Sokolsky got a strikeout, but then gave up a single and a subsequent wild pitch moved the runner to 2nd. The next batter doubled down the left field line and the game was tied 3 – 3. Sokolsky then threw another wild pitch, moving the runner to third and Stevie Hanson came on to pitch for the Ducks. Hansen gave up an RBI single, but then got a strikeout and flyout to end the inning. Neither team could score in the 5th, and Oregon won it in the bottom of the sixth. With two outs, Ariel Carlson hit a hot grounder the shortstop couldn’t handle and was safe at first. Tehya Bird came to bat and deposited a 2-2 pitch into the left centerfield bleachers, giving Oregon a 4 – 3 lead that they wouldn’t surrender and served as the game’s final score as North Dakota State went down in order in the top of the 7th.
Hansen got the win for Oregon, giving up 2 hits and zero runs in her 3.2 innings off work. Daniell and Bird each had 2 RBIs and Daniell had 2 hits, with 4 other Ducks having one hit.
Oregon scored 20 runs in the 5 games but showed good offensive punch – or, at least enough offensive punch – in only one game. The Ducks will face more pitching like Oklahoma State’s during the season, particularly in Conference, than pitching like they saw from Ole Miss. At this time of year, it’s usually fair to assume that pitchers are a bit ahead of hitters. While both have spent the winter inside, hitting live game pitching is much different from hitting off a machine or even live indoor pitching. Oregon’s hitting is going to have to improve quite a bit to put together a competitive season.
Coach Melyssa Lombardi, who some believe needs to make significant strides this season to continue as Oregon’s Head Coach, showed a greater willingness to switch pitchers at the first sign of trouble. The pitching staff performed decently but was certainly not overpowering. Hansen struggled more than might be expected given her gritty performances last year and took both of Oregon’s losses. Naturally, the team is still finding itself and these early games can only help the players get better.
The Ducks now travel north, but only as far as San Diego to compete in the Campbell/Cartier Classic Tournament next weekend. Oregon will face competition – Utah Valley, UC Riverside, Loyola Marymount, and San Diego State – that it should be able to have some success against. We’ll see what lessons were learned south of the border.