OKLAHOMA CITY — Megan Kleist’s routine allows for five minutes of sulking after a subpar performance.
There hasn’t been much to pout about this season for the Pac-12 pitcher of the year.
But Kleist has waited a week for another chance to get back in the circle after giving up seven runs during the Ducks’ 9-6 loss to Kentucky in the first game of the super regional.
Oregon coach Mike White will need Kleist and Miranda Elish to be a dominant one-two punch in Oklahoma City as the program continues its quest for its first national championship at the Women’s College World Series.
The top-seeded Ducks (52-8) open play against No. 8 Arizona State on Thursday at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium (9 a.m., ESPN).
Kleist, who was named a first-team all-American on Wednesday, recently explained her change in approach this season, which has led to the junior right-hander having more wins (21) than walks allowed (17).
“I think my biggest thing last year was being inconsistent. I’d come out some games and be a completely different pitcher,” Kleist said. “Coming into this year, I had some goals that I wanted to achieve. I wrote them down and I see them every day. I really wanted to try and create a routine. Before every game, I pitch the same amount of pitches with the same breaks. Having a routine, when I’m kind of struggling, I know where to turn back and kind of fix it.
“That was a big factor, and also focusing on throwing quality pitches. That’s something coach White has really implemented into the pitchers’ brains this year. It really doesn’t have to be a strike, but you have to pitch to the zone where it needs to be pitched.”
White is confident Kleist, who pitched in the WCWS last year, is ready to perform on the national stage again.
“She knows she can throw well,” White said. “We’ve talked about it, ‘Megan, when you keep the ball low in the zone, no one touches you. When you hit your locations, no one touches you.’
“That’s what it is. It’s not like she doesn’t have good stuff, it’s just the execution. That’s what her problem was the other night, she just made too many mistakes.”
Kleist had not allowed more than three runs all season before the super regional. She threw two no-hitters during the regular season and had a perfect game broken up with two outs in the seventh of a regional win over Drake.
During a marquee nonconference matchup against two-time defending national champion Oklahoma, a possible opponent for the Ducks in the second game of the WCWS, Kleist pitched a one-hit shutout.
“Everyone has a bad day. I’ve had my fair share of bad days, and she just had a bad day,” senior Gwen Svekis, who also earned first-team all-American honors and was named the national catcher of the year, said of her battery mate. “Kentucky is a good hitting team. Against a mediocre hitting team, I am sure that game doesn’t go that way.
“I have full confidence that Kleisty is 100 percent fine. She wouldn’t be the Pac-12 pitcher of the year if she weren’t good against the best of the best.”
White hasn’t announced which Oregon co-ace will get the start against the Sun Devils (48-11).
“Obviously we’ll probably put Elish in if Megan doesn’t go well, or vice versa,” White said. “We’re not going to mess around. We’ve got to go get this first one.”
Kleist (21-6, 1.14 ERA) split a pair of starts opposite Arizona State star Gisele “G” Juarez (26-4) during the regular season. Oregon hit six home runs in support of Elish (24-1) during the middle game of the regular-season series.
Juarez (0.91) has the third-lowest individual ERA of pitchers still playing in the postseason behind Oklahoma's Paige Parker (0.86) and Elish (0.89).
The Sun Devils swept South Carolina in the super regional last weekend in Tempe, Ariz.
“If we lose a game in OKC we kind of dig ourselves into a hole, but now we’re going in with a clean slate,” said senior third baseman Jenna Lilley, a third-team all-American selection. “I think at some point you’re going to have to face adversity, so maybe it’s a good thing that it happened to us (in the super regional) to give us a little reality check. Because we hadn’t been playing up to our capabilities.”
Oregon’s lineup piled up 17 runs in support of Elish, a second-team all-American, during the back-to-back wins over Kentucky to clinch the best-of-three super regional at Jane Sanders Stadium.
The Ducks scored 14 runs in two wins at Arizona State but were shut out by Juarez in the loss.
“We can’t look past them at all, that’s for sure. We’ve got to give them all the credit they deserve,” Svekis said. “It’s just important to understand the balance between the two knowing we can beat them and that confidence, but also not looking past them. Because Giselle Juarez will absolutely mow us down if we don’t give her the credit she deserves.”
The Ducks are determined to get off to a better start in the double-elimination bracket play format after losing their first game in three of their four previous WCWS appearances under White.
The Oregon-Arizona State winner will face the Oklahoma-Washington winner Friday. The losers of Thursday’s games will meet in an elimination game Saturday.
“I think that loss (to Kentucky) is going to be very important to us moving forward,” Svekis said. “We were getting too complacent, and I think that getting smacked in the face like that is going to propel us. We played the best we’ve played in a long time the second two games of the super regional. Hopefully that continues going forward.”