Cinderella didn’t fare well in the NCAA softball bracket this year.
All 16 seeded teams advanced out of the regional round, setting up some big-name matchups in the super regionals.
Top-seeded Oregon will host No. 16 Kentucky in the NCAA Eugene Super Regional for the second consecutive season. The best-of-three series begins Thursday at Jane Sanders Stadium (6 p.m., ESPN2).
The Ducks (50-7) are one of five Pac-12 teams still playing. All 13 SEC teams, including Kentucky, received bids into the 64-team tournament, with nine of those teams still competing for a spot in the Women’s College World Series.
“We are the two clashing titans, I would say,” Oregon senior catcher Gwen Svekis said of the Pac-12 vs. SEC matchup. “It’s exciting to play one of them and not one of our own, because obviously we want the Pac-12 to do as well as it can. We’re excited to take them on, but we’re not thinking, ‘This is the SEC, we better buckle down,’ or anything like that.”
Oregon, which is hosting a super regional for the ninth consecutive year, is seeking the program’s first national championship. The last Pac-12 team to win the WCWS was Arizona State in 2011.
The Wildcats (34-19) finished 10th in the SEC but dominated the NCAA Lexington Regional with run-rule victories over Illinois-Chicago (10-1) and Notre Dame (10-0 and 8-0).
“They’re just a really good team, and I think it’s a tough matchup,” Oregon coach Mike White said.
In last year’s super regional, Megan Kleist (21-5, 0.92 ERA) allowed three hits with eight strikeouts and no walks to lead the Ducks to a 4-0 victory in the first game. Oregon needed a four-run rally in the seventh inning to eliminate the Wildcats with a 6-5 win in the second game.
White might start Kleist, who pitched a one-hit shutout against Drake in her lone regional appearance last Friday, in back-to-back games, if necessary. But Miranda Elish (22-1, 0.92) has emerged as a co-ace down the stretch, and Maggie Balint (7-1, 1.90) started to return to her 2017 form at the end of the regular season.
“You watch the regionals this past weekend and there were a couple teams that only had one pitcher to throw at the end because that was the one pitcher that they trusted to carry on their season,” Svekis said. “There was no moment where we needed to pitch Kleist or we needed to pitch Miranda. It’s always, ‘OK, whoever we pitch we’ve got a shot with.’”
Oregon dominated the regional with three shutouts and averaged four runs per game. Kentucky used ace Elon Rethlake (11-4, 2.77 ERA) twice and freshman Grace Baalman (13-8, 2.28 ERA) once during the regional.
“We had our backs against the wall in that second game. We came back really late in the game,” Elish said of the 2017 super regional. “Maybe this year let’s get on top early and hold that lead and keep extending it throughout the game.”
The Pac-12 champion Ducks are 22-1 at home this season, and White improved to 27-0 in regional play, with last weekend’s sweep. Both teams held open practices at Jane Sanders Stadium on Wednesday.
“That's one of my favorite memories of my four years,” Svekis said of clinching the WCWS berth in dramatic fashion against the Wildcats. “So I have very fond memories of our series against them. Obviously we’re both new teams. …
“We have to trust that everything we’ve done this whole year has been building up to this point. I think we’ll be ready for it.”