There were the fifth-year seniors yearning to advance through an NCAA Regional before their careers ended. There was an Oregon softball team looking for redemption on the same field where its season ended a year ago. There was the hometown kid looking to make her mark on the program she cheered for as a young girl.
You want a feel-good story? Look no further than the 2023 Oregon softball team.
A year after being eliminated from the postseason by Arkansas, the Ducks turned the tables by run-ruling the Razorbacks on their home field Sunday to reach the NCAA Super Regionals. Oregon, designated the home team for Sunday’s game, used a nine-run fifth inning to end it, winning 14-4 on a walk-off grand slam by Eugene native Ariel Carlson — her second home run of the inning.
“It’s a surreal feeling,” said Carlson, who was 3-for-4 with seven RBIs. “I grew up watching Oregon softball, I grew up watching coach (Nikki) Ragin play — all of my favorite players — and it was a dream to be able to come here. And then I just wanted to be able to do it for the girls after me, and then for my girls that I’m playing around every single day. So it’s one of the best feelings I’ve ever had.”
The Ducks swept through the Fayetteville Regional in three games this weekend, advancing to their 10th Super Regional appearance all-time. Afterward, fifth-year UO coach Melyssa Lombardi recalled standing on the same field at Arkansas a year ago, processing the end of the Ducks’ 2022 season with the duo that would be her fifth-year senior leaders this spring, Allee Bunker and Terra McGowan.
“We had a promise at that time to each other that, this was happening for a reason and that this is what’s going to drive us to next year and what we’re going to do,” Lombardi said. “So, standing on that field and not getting what we wanted, but then to hear our name called (in the Fayetteville Regional on selection day) and for us to come back here, it was a part of our journey and we accepted it. I can’t say enough, how proud I am of our team.”
McGowan also finished Sunday’s game with three hits and she scored three times, on a first-inning homer by KK Humphreys and then both of Carlson’s homers in the fifth.
“We’ve been talking about a quote all weekend, and it’s, ‘fate happened so redemption can follow,’ ” McGowan said. “Ending last season with tears of sadness and coming back here and then being on that same field with tears of joy was the way it was supposed to happen, and I couldn’t have written it better myself.”
How It Happened: Stevie Hansen (20-6) pitched a five-inning complete game for the Ducks, allowing a run in the first but escaping a bases-loaded, two-out jam to minimize the damage. Kai Luschar walked and stole second in Oregon’s half of the first, and McGowan singled with one out. Carlson’s first hit of the day brought Luschar in with the tying run, and Humphreys made it 4-1 with her eighth home run of the season.
The Ducks have talked all year about playing with a “postseason mentality,” and it paid dividends throughout the regional weekend.
“The big difference for us this weekend was we were treating every inning like the seventh inning,” McGowan said. “So as soon as they put runs on the board, we had faith that we were going to get them back. We had great energy in the dugout, Stevie pitched a heck of a game on the mound, and we just passed the bat really well.”
After a scoreless second inning, Arkansas tied it 4-4 with a three-run homer in the third. But that would be all the scoring the Razorbacks would do, while Oregon went back up by a run in the fourth. Alyssa Daniell walked to open that frame, and she took second on a Hanna Delgado single. Tehya Bird moved them over with a bunt, and with two outs Luschar came through with an RBI single for a 5-4 lead.
Hansen pitched around a single in the top of the fifth, and then the Ducks came to bat for one of the most unforgettable half-innings in recent program history. McGowan opened the bottom of the fifth with a single, and Carlson quickly made it 7-4 with her eighth home run of the season. Humphreys followed with a single, Delgado also singled with one out and Bird walked to load the bases.
That brought up Paige Sinicki, and she lashed a double down the left-field line for a 9-4 lead, plating Humphreys and Delgado. With two on and one out, and the Ducks were suddenly one swing away from a run-rule win.
A two-out walk to Bunker again loaded the bases, and everybody moved up a base on a McGowan single that made it 10-4. Carlson probably could have ended it with a single to score two runners, but instead she blasted her ninth homer of the season and her second of the inning, ending the game and sending the jubilant Ducks off to Super Regionals.
Notable: The Ducks advanced through regionals as an unseeded team for the fourth time, and for the first time since 2011 at Penn State. … Oregon’s 14 runs were a program record in an NCAA Tournament game, exceeding the 13 scored against Illinois-Chicago on May 9, 2017. … Carlson’s seven RBIs matched the school postseason record for a single game, tying Lindsey Welch in a 1998 matchup with Iowa. … Carlson became the sixth player in UO history to homer twice in the same postseason game. … The Ducks had 13 hits for the second day in a row, one shy of the school NCAA Tournament record. … Hansen became the first UO pitcher with 20 wins since Brooke Yanez in 2021.
Head coach Melyssa Lombardi on the development players like Carlson showed since last year
“I think it’s the best part. These guys come into our program as young girls and it’s my job and our coaches’ job to help them transform into young women, on the field and off the field. To be decisive with their decisions, to trust who they are and (that) what they have is good enough in any situation. And we’re watching Ariel transform.”
Senior catcher Terra McGowan on how the season-long “postseason mentality” showed this week
“I would say probably (Saturday) when it became a tight game — I think it was tied at one point, or were we even behind? — just having faith, trusting the process. We’ve been treating every weekend like postseason. So we’ve came back from being behind in previous weekends. So just sticking with what we know.”
Lombardi on McGowan’s comment postgame that she most wanted to win for her head coach
“You know, it’s about more than what we do on the field. You know, we do life together. And you know, there’s times where things go our way and things don’t go our way, but it’s about, do you guys stick together and get through it? And that’s what I’m so proud of about them, is that they just stuck through it.”
Up Next: The Ducks advanced to the Stillwater Super Regional against sixth-seeded Oklahoma State.