The Oregon softball team just completed an April for the ages.
The month included a perfect game by Miranda Elish against Portland State, a home sweep of then-No. 9 Arizona, a marquee nonconference win over then-No. 2 Oklahoma and last weekend’s sweep of then-No. 4 Washington in Seattle.
After going 14-1 in April, including nine wins over top 10 opponents, the Ducks (41-7, 15-3 Pac-12) are tied with No. 1 UCLA for first place atop the conference standings.
Second-ranked Oregon opens a three-game series against Utah on Friday at Jane Sanders Stadium (7 p.m., Pac-12 Networks) before closing the regular season next weekend at No. 24 California.
“We have more business to take care of,” third baseman Jenna Lilley noted.
Oregon won two games against Utah last season but the third game was rained out. The Ducks ended up finishing second in the conference, a half-game behind Arizona, ending their streak of four consecutive Pac-12 titles.
This year, Oregon is battling UCLA for the conference crown. The Bruins (45-3, 15-3), who lost two of three games earlier this season in Eugene, play at Cal this weekend and then host No. 8 Arizona State.
“Weekends like this are probably the most dangerous,” senior catcher Gwen Svekis said. “Because we come off the high of the UW series win, which in some people’s eyes you might think you got the hard part done. But Utah came in and beat us two years ago. Cal beat us two years ago. Those are two really big series that we need to lock in and focus on.
“If we don’t take care of business, then we have no one to blame but ourselves.”
Oregon, led by USA Softball player of the year candidates Megan Kleist (17-5, 0.93 ERA) and Elish (17-1, 1.04 ERA), ranks second in the NCAA in ERA (1.15).
The Utes (20-25, 2-16) have lost seven consecutive games and have a 5.86 ERA in Pac-12 games.
“If we don’t play well, they will beat us,” coach Mike White warned. “We have to make sure we hunt for the win and don’t wait for victory.”
The Ducks, who are 16-1 at home this season, will honor four seniors — Lilley, Svekis, second baseman Lauren Lindvall and shortstop DJ Sanders — on Sunday.
“I’m a really emotional person, so I’m not particularly looking forward to it,” Svekis said. “It’s a weird balance of excited and upset about it all at once.”
Oregon, ranked No. 1 in the RPI, will have a chance to host an NCAA Regional, as well as a super regional if the team advances, later this month at Jane Sanders Stadium.
“I think my class had it the best because we had one year at Howe Field and three at the Jane,” Lindvall said of her experience in the program.