Still no answers for Ducks' fade
The Oregon softball program has become a model of consistency under Mike White.
In terms of Pac-12 championships, 50-win seasons, regional and super regional success and national rankings, the Ducks have been locked in.
But at the Women's College World Series, Oregon consistently has left disappointed.
That trend continued this season. The Ducks were the top national seed for the second time, but went 1-2 and exited shy of the semifinals.
The Ducks' fate was pretty much sealed on Friday, when they lost to a Washington team Oregon swept in Pac-12 play. The Huskies were ranked No. 1 for a while this season, so this was not a big upset.
That the two teams Oregon lost to in OKC — Washington and Florida State — reached the championship series is unlikely to ease the sting in Eugene. And White was left with familiar questions on Saturday night after Florida State ended the Ducks' season.
Why do his Ducks consistently struggle on college softball's biggest stage?
"That's what we've got to delve into, what can we do to bust through?" he said. "Because we're watching teams perform better than what they did in the season. UCLA's performing better, and teams in our conference that we compete with, they're performing better than us right now, and we have to find out (why).
"I'm pointing the finger right at me right now. It's on me. I've got to find a way to get this team to perform better in the big moments."
These Ducks had good experience against top-flight opponents. You don't go 21-3 in the Pac-12 without winning tense, tight games. And this season Oregon went 7-2 in the regular season against the teams that made the WCWS semifinals.
"It's hard to replicate being in front of 10,000 people in this kind of atmosphere, this kind of heat and this humidity, and the field," White said. "Everything's a little bit different than what it is in the Northwest. I'm not making excuses, but that's what we're talking about. We need to pass that on to our younger players, what it's like."
In the losses to Washington and Florida State, Oregon went a combined 2 for 20 with runners in scoring position. Their pitchers, ranked among the best in the nation all season, were touched for some critical two-strike hits. Their defense did those pitchers no favors with some bad decisions in addition to the five errors they made in the losses.
Oregon continues to be outside its comfort zone in Oklahoma City. The expectations probably contribute to that.
Those expectations are not likely to fade. All three pitchers are expected to return next season. The Ducks will have new starters at four of the five infield positions, but there is no reason to anticipate a huge drop-off.
After her Seminoles ended Oregon's season on Saturday, Florida State coach Lonni Alameda said she could see the Ducks' hitters were pressing, and told her pitchers to expand the strike zone. Alameda also sais she saw the pain for Oregon's four seniors, particularly All-Americans Gwen Svekis and Jenna Lilley.
"These games are always tough at the end, seeing seniors ending their year, and (the Ducks) have a special group," Alameda said.
Svekis, Lilley and Lauren Lindvall played in three Women's College World Series in their four seasons and won the Pac-12 title three times. That they came up short of a national title shouldn't dim their place in Ducks history.
"To hear Coach White say that we left the program better than we found it is the greatest achievement of my four years," Svekis said.
She had, of course, hoped to achieve something greater.