OKLAHOMA CITY — Jenna Lilley didn’t say much during Oregon's somber news conference, but the senior third baseman’s postgame face expressed bitter disappointment, anger and determination.
Losing to the rivals from the north in the Women’s College World Series for the second consecutive year was not a pleasant experience for the Ducks.
Top-seeded Oregon’s quest to win the program’s first national championship was dealt a painful blow with a 6-2 loss to No. 5 Washington on Friday at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium.
“I think Washington always plays intensely. They always come out with a chip on their shoulder and rah-rah,” Lilley said after the Huskies avenged the Ducks’ regular-season sweep in Seattle. “I think they played exactly how they did at home. Except when we played them there, we made the defensive plays or we stopped the bleeding and we hit their pitchers around. And today we didn’t."
Oregon will face either Florida State or Georgia in an elimination game Saturday (6:30 p.m., ESPN).
The Ducks (53-9) lost 3-1 to the Huskies (51-8) in the opening round of the 2017 WCWS before responding with wins over Baylor and LSU. Oregon was eliminated in the semifinals by eventual national champion Oklahoma.
“We’ve shown we can bounce back, but we’ve got to play better softball,” Oregon coach Mike White said. “Their performance today is not going to get us much further if we don’t get better. We’ve shown we can get better, and that’s the frustrating part about it is not putting your best game out there on the big stage.”
The pitchers’ duel between Megan Kleist and Gabbie Plain in the sweltering heat turned into the Dawgs’ day in the bottom of the fifth inning.
After Kleist gave up a single, Lilley made a throwing error, Trysten Melhart walked, Washington had the bases loaded. Pinch-runner Kaija Gibson scored the game’s first run when shortstop DJ Sanders’ throw to home plate was off line on a fielder's choice. Taylor Van Zee delivered a two-run single to give the Huskies a 3-0 lead.
“When people get put on base by me personally, on walks and stuff, that puts unneeded pressure on your defense,” Kleist said after her first start since a 9-6 super regional loss to Kentucky on May 24. “I obviously couldn’t make the big pitches when I needed to.”
White pulled Kleist with only one out in the fifth. Sis Bates hit a bloop single down the right-field line off Miranda Elish to make the score 4-0.
Taryn Atlee had an RBI double and Melhart added an RBI groundout off Elish to provide the Huskies with a couple of insurance runs in the sixth.
“It’s obviously very frustrating, but we have to give credit to Gabbie Plain,” catcher Gwen Svekis said. “The reason she’s so good is not because she blows it by people or a ball that’s untouchable movement-wise. It’s because she hits her lanes really well.
“We didn’t make adjustments to her. We knew exactly what was coming and we didn’t go after it."
April Utecht came off the bench and drove in Oregon’s first run in the top of the seventh inning. Svekis added an RBI single on her birthday to cut the Ducks’ deficit to four runs.
Kleist (21-7), who allowed five runs over 15 innings in her two previous starts against Washington this year, gave up three hits and four runs in 4 1/3 innings. Elish allowed three hits and two runs in 1 2/3 innings.
Plain (22-4) and Taran Avelo combined to allow six hits and two runs after shutting out two-time defending national champion Oklahoma 2-0 on Thursday.
“I think what feels good about the game for us is that we’ve improved,” Washington coach Heather Tarr said. “That’s why these guys came here is to see how good they could be, and what a great opportunity and stage to perform on and be able to showcase how good we’ve gotten.”
Oregon scored 11 runs in the super regional-clinching win over Kentucky and 11 more during Thursday’s win over Arizona State to begin the WCWS. Plain, a freshman, didn’t allow a hit until Shannon Rhodes’ single in the fourth inning.
“We did not make any adjustments,” White said. “I’m very disappointed in the way our team approached the game.”
The Seminoles (52-12) and Bulldogs (48-12) will play an elimination game at 11:30 a.m. Saturday with the winner continuing on against Oregon. The Ducks split two games at Florida State in March and opened the season with an 8-3 win over Georgia on Feb. 8.
“When you get to the postseason, everything starts over for everybody, 0-0,” Rhodes said. “So it doesn’t matter what we did before, obviously, playing Washington. But we’re going to go out there and give it our best every pitch.”