Oregon softball rallies to beat Arizona

EUGENE - The Pac-12-leading and No. 6 University of Oregon softball team (34-6, 11-2) powered back to a 5-3 series-opening win over No. 17 Arizona (27-15, 4-6) Friday evening at Howe Field.

After UA and UO traded runs in the second and third innings, the Super Regional returnee Wildcats scored twice in the fifth to go up, 3-1.

The Ducks battled back with their final four runs in the sixth inning, thanks to a pair of two-run homers by junior first baseman Kailee Cuico and freshman catcher Janelle Lindvall.

Cuico's shot was her team-leading 13th of 2013 and tied her for sixth-most in a season for Oregon. She also moved into a tie for eighth all-time for UO career-wise (31) with former great Kathy Stahl.

She knocked in senior second baseman Kaylan Howard who hit her second double of the game the at-bat before. The team-leading 10th two-bagger of the season for the Riverside, Calif., native also moved her to fifth all-time for Oregon on the career charts (with 37).

In the circle, senior Jessica Moore (18-3) pitched the first six innings, struck out four, walked one, gave up nine hits, and two of her three runs allowed were earned.

Moore's 18th win moved her to 11th-most in a campaign in school history. The USA Softball Player of the Year Finalist also added to her Oregon career records for wins (91), strikeouts (829), innings (26.2) and appearances (161).

"We struggled a little early, but we did what we do best (coming back)," Moore said. "We know it's not over till the 21st out. For the most part, I threw pretty well. (Arizona) is a disciplined team and made me work hard mentally."

In the seventh inning she allowed an opening single and double, and Duck head coach Mike White went to freshman Cheridan Hawkins with no outs and runners on second and third base.

The three-time Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week responded by getting a strikeout swinging, fly-ball to center field, and strikeout looking to notch her fifth save of the season.

"What a great job by Cheridan," White said. "She wanted to help the team out any way she could, and she did in a tight situation. Jess pitched pretty well, and Arizona had a good game plan. They hit some really good pitches and laid off some really close ones, and used some push bunts to manufacture runs - hats off to their hitters."

At the plate for UO, six batters hit safely, and Howard (2-for-3, RBI) notched her 12th multi-hit game of the season.

Arizona starter Shelby Babcock (17-4) pitched the first 5.1 innings, struck out four, walked three, allowed six hits, and all four of her runs allowed were earned.

After Cuico's sixth-inning homer, junior DP Alexa Peterson hit a double off the top of the left field wall, forcing UA head coach Mike Candrea to bring in reliever Nancy Bowling.

Five pitches later, Lindvall socked her seventh round-tripper of the campaign over the left field wall - also her third game-winning RBI of the year (and all in the last nine victories).

"I had to be aggressive because I had two strikes," Lindvall said. "I didn't think I hit it that hard, but it went out. It can be any player, any game for us - so it was great to help out. Jess and Cheridan did a great job mixing it up and trying to keep their hitters off-balance."

Bowling then retired the next two batters in the lineup in UO's final at-bats.

For the game, UA's top two hitters in the line-up - Hallie Wilson and Chelsea Suitos - both went 2-for-4.

Five other Wildcats hit safely once as Arizona registered Duck opponent season highs for hits (9) and doubles (3).

Friday's win marked the fifth time in as many league series openers that the Ducks have won in '13, and kept Oregon atop the Pac-12 standings ahead of No. 13 Washington (9-3) and No. 2 Arizona State (7-3). The Huskies beat the Sun Devils, 3-1, Friday night in Tempe.

Off the field Friday, the Duck marketing department also registered a victory as nearly $1400 was raised for the Willamette Valley Cancer Institute. Donations were collected through a silent auction for the team's special pink jerseys as part the 'Strike Out Cancer' promotion.

Looking ahead, Oregon and Arizona will play single games Saturday at 2 p.m. and Sunday at noon, and the finale will be televised live by the Pac-12 Network.