Behind a masterful performance from freshman right-hander Emily Lockman and timely hits from classmate Alicia Armstrong and sophomore Mattie Fowler, the 14th-seeded Nebraska softball team defeated No. 3 Oregon, 4-2, Sunday to clinch a berth in the Women’s College World Series.
With the win, the Huskers advanced to their sixth Women’s College World Series, where they will face Washington (game time TBA). Facing an Oregon team that hadn’t lost at home all season, the Huskers won their first NCAA Super Regional title in school history by taking a hard-fought game three.
Oregon scored twice in the bottom of the first, but Lockman held the Ducks off the scoreboard the rest of the way. In a complete-game effort, Lockman (15-5) scattered eight hits while allowing only two runs. Fittingly, the game ended when Kaylan Howard grounded into a game-ending double play against the nation’s leader in double plays. Senior Gabby Banda fielded the hard ground ball, fired to sophomore Hailey Decker at second for the first out, and Decker, a Keizer, Ore., native, completed the double play by firing to Fowler at first, prompting a dogpile on the field.
With the win, the Huskers improved to 45-14 on the season, posting a 45-win season for the first time since 2004. Offensively, Decker was 2-for-3 with a pair of doubles, while Armstrong, Fowler and senior Courtney Breault each drove in a run.
Jessica Moore (27-6) took the loss for Oregon, which ended its season with a 50-11 record. Moore allowed three runs (two earned) on seven hits in 3.0 innings.
In the top of the first, three consecutive one-out singles from Banda, junior Taylor Edwards and senior Brooke Thomason loaded the bases. Breault then hit a ground ball to the right side, that got past the second baseman, turning an RBI groundout into two runs, as Taylor Edwards scored from second on the play.
In the bottom of the frame, an infield single, a disputed stolen base and then a disputed safe call on a bang-bang infield single gave Oregon runners at first and third with no outs. A strikeout and a walk then loaded the bases with one out before Samantha Pappas tied the game with a two-run single, scoring both runners who Nebraska previously thought it had retired. Oregon ended up loading the bases again with one out, but Lockman prevented further damage with an infield pop up and a strikeout.
The Huskers used a two-out rally to take a 3-2 lead in the top of the third. Breault got the rally started with a two-out infield single. Decker then laced the next pitch down the left field line for a double. Armstrong then brought Breault home when she beat the throw on an RBI infield single.
Nebraska added an insurance run in the top of the sixth. Decker began the frame with her second consecutive double. Armstrong then put down a successful sacrifice bunt and wound up safe at first on an error. Fowler followed with a clutch RBI single down the right field line, scoring Decker to give Nebraska a 4-2 lead.
Trailing by two, Oregon brought the top of its order to the plate in the bottom of the seventh. A leadoff single was erased on a fielder’s choice before the Huskers turned their 48th double play of the season to punch their ticket to Oklahoma City.