OKLAHOMA CITY — Mike White was still backing the Pac on Saturday night.
Moments after top-seeded Oregon’s season ended with a whimper at the Women’s College World Series, the coach took a small measure of consolation from his softball program’s fifth Pac-12 title in the past six years.
“We were hoping that the Pac-12 wins this week,” White said following the Ducks’ dismissal from the tournament after back-to-back losses to Washington (6-2) and Florida State (4-1). “I think being the Pac-12 champions and having beaten those teams over the course of the season shows how good our team really can be when we play Oregon softball.
“But unfortunately this week we weren’t at our best.”
The rival Huskies will have a chance to bring home the Pac-12’s first softball national title in seven years after eliminating two-time defending champion Oklahoma in the semifinals on Sunday.
The Seminoles, who eliminated Georgia on Saturday before showing the Ducks the exit, continued their stunning run by beating UCLA twice on Sunday to advance to the best-of-three championship series at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium.
The Ducks (53-10) split two games at Florida State, won two of three games against UCLA at Jane Sanders Stadium and swept Washington in Seattle during the regular season.
The team’s preseason trip to New Zealand helped improve the clubhouse chemistry, and an arduous nonconference schedule set the table for another conference crown.
But after an 11-6 win in the WCWS opener against Arizona State, White’s lineup went AWOL, his defense committed five errors and his co-aces were both out-pitched.
Now the Ducks have to replace the strong senior class comprised of four-year standouts Jenna Lilley, Gwen Svekis and Lauren Lindvall, as well as graduate transfer DJ Sanders.
“We were as prepared as we could have been,” said Svekis, who earned first-team all-American honors and was named the national catcher of the year. “We watched a ton of film, we hit rise balls all day and we just couldn’t get it done to the best of our ability.
“Some people had some really great at-bats. I personally had some terrible at-bats, and that sucks, but it is what it is.”
Megan Kleist held Washington scoreless for four innings but didn’t receive any run support until the Ducks scored twice in the seventh inning.
Miranda Elish allowed two runs over six innings against Florida State, but the Ducks didn’t score until the bottom-half of the sixth.
“Scoring first is big, especially in elimination games as the pressure goes big-time,” Florida State coach Lonni Alameda said. “You get to those elimination games and you start pressing a little bit, and the strike zone gets a little bigger as you’re trying to score some runs.
“We could see that a little bit with Oregon. They were pressing a bit.”
Before the Ducks boarded their charter flight for Oklahoma City, White said it would be crucial to win the first two games in order to return with the program’s first national championship trophy.
Oregon still has never been able to remain in the winner’s bracket entering the semifinals.
“You’ve just got to win that second game. That’s the bottom line,” White said. “We just didn’t get it done. So then there’s that negative feeling you take into the next game.”
The Ducks, who will return the Pac-12 pitcher of the year (Kleist) and a second all-American arm (Elish), expect to be back in contention again in 2019.
If Oregon does break through, this year’s seniors will have played a part in raising the expectations for the program.
“It hurts a lot,” Lilley said. “I hope we changed the culture of the team and made the culture better. That’s just as important as on the field. But I’m proud of myself and my teammates.
“Coming to Oregon was the best decision I ever made in my life, and I will always be a Duck no matter what happened (Saturday).”