Eugene, Ore. – The Oregon Ducks are ranked No. 1 in college softball, and the Gophers can certainly understand why after getting pounded by the Ducks on Saturday night in the NCAA tournament.
The Ducks spotted Minnesota a run in the top of the first inning, then scored eight consecutive runs in a 10-2 triumph in the opener of best-of-three Super Regional at Oregon's Howe Field. The game was called in the bottom of the sixth inning because of the eight-run mercy rule.
The Gophers, the No. 16 seed in the 64-team NCAA field, must defeat top-seeded Oregon twice Sunday to advance to the Women's College World Series. Minnesota (44-11) plays Oregon (53-7-1) at 4 p.m. Twin Cities time on ESPN, with another game, if necessary, to follow at 7 on ESPN2.
Oregon, one of the most explosive hitting teams in the country, outhit the Gophers 12-3, hitting the ball ferociously even on outs.
"Just a great all-around performance by the team," Oregon coach Mike White said. "Offensively, defensively and pitching."
The Gophers did themselves no favors by committing all of the game's four errors.
A school-record, sellout crowd of 1,954, seated at the foot of forested hills near the picturesque Oregon campus, turned out on a pleasant evening in the Pacific Northwest.
Well, pleasant for one team.
"We struggled a little bit today," Gophers shortstop Tyler Walker said. "We got the nerves out of the way. Tomorrow's a whole new day. "
Sara Groenewegen singled in fellow freshman Sam Macken for Minnesota's first-inning run. The Gophers' only other run came on Walker's 11th home run of the season, a line drive to right-center in the fifth inning.
Oregon wasted little time tying the score in its first at-bat. Leadoff hitter Courtney Ceo, the nation's No. 2 hitter in the Division I statistics (through last Sunday) at .484, slammed an off-field homer that barely cleared the fence in left. Ceo wound up 3-for-3 to boost her average to .492.
Minnesota's errors helped the Pac-12 Conference champions tack on four runs in the second inning and three more in the third.
Sophomore lefthander Cheridan Hawkins improved to 32-4 by throwing a three-hitter and striking out four.
Minnesota senior righthander Sara Moulton saw her record drop to 27-7. She gave up eight runs (four earned) on eight hits in three innings before sophomore lefthander Nikki Anderson finished up in relief.
"I could tell they're a great team," Moulton said. "They were really aggressive, and they were attacking when I threw strikes.
"We're going to make the plays tomorrow."