The NCAA struck again.
First, the NCAA decided Oregon was not worthy of a top-16 seed in the postseason, despite finishing the Coaches Poll ranked 10th. In fact, the NCAA gave them a ranking equivalent to No. 21.
By doing so, the NCAA had Oregon travel to Texas, who is coached by former Ducks head coach Mike White, rather than host a regional itself. It’s clear that matchup was made to drive ratings and it put the Ducks student-athletes second.
After dropping its first game to Texas State 5-1, the Ducks rallied to win two straight and meet the No. 12 Longhorns (who were No. 11 in the Coaches Poll) Sunday evening in Game 6, needing to win twice to advance to the Super Regional.
Storms delayed Game 6 from beginning on time at 1:00 p.m. It began at 6:00 p.m. instead, with the Ducks winning a thriller in extra innings thanks to a walk-off hit into deep centerfield from Terra McGowan in the bottom of the eighth.
Haley Cruse hit a leadoff double to get on second base and was the eventual winning run to force Game 7.
“I thought our athletes did a great job staying focused and ready,” said Oregon head coach Melyssa Lombardi. “I loved the fight that they had that first game coming back.”
Texas had tied the game in the top of the seventh, thanks to an incorrect call, but in the end, the Ducks emerged victorious.
“That’s been the story of this team all year. A team scores and then they answer,” added Lombardi.
However, with the storm delay and then the game going into extra innings, whether a Game 7 would be played that evening or the following day was in question.
As James Crepea of The Oregonian pointed out, the NCAA rules say no game will begin before 9:00 a.m. or after 11:00 p.m. “if possible.”
Well, the NCAA decided to have the game begin at 11:15 p.m. central time, once again making a decision to the detriment of Oregon but like Crepea said in his tweet, 15 minutes isn’t that big of a deal.
In fact, after the season-ending defeat, Lombardi said her team was prepared to play two games in one day and they did that. There were no excuses from her mouth.
Still, Oregon would have benefitted from a night of rest before a game that would decide its season.
During Game 7, the Ducks and Longhorns met in another tightly contested, defensive battle that saw the Ducks blow multiple golden opportunities. First, Oregon had runners on first and third with just one out during the top of the fourth inning. Texas got a double play to leave the inning without a run allowed.
Then in the top of the seventh, Oregon trailed by a run but had runners of first and third with no outs. Texas once again escaped the inning without allowing a run to win the game 1-0 and advance to the NCAA Super Regional.
“We just fell a little short,” said Lombardi prior to heading back to Eugene. “I’m so proud of this team, just to watch them transform from the beginning of the year til now.
“My heart hurts because we were right there, and I want them to get what they want but we fell short.”
Lombardi then raved about her team and how “hard they want to play for each other and Oregon.”
“To see them take on all those experiences and keep growing, it was amazing,” she added.
During Lombardi’s postgame availability, she took a moment to thank all of her seniors, including Cruse for leaving the program in a great place.
“She has left this program better than when she got here,” said Lombardi of the super senior.
Lombardi also gave major credit to Samaria Diaz, Maddie Hopper, Annalisa Williamson, and Shaye Bowden for leaving their mark on the program.
“I will be forever thankful for all of them,” Lombardi said.
“They do understand what they’ve built here and they’re very proud of it. It’s sad to see them walk away but they’re walking away and knowing that things are in place.”
While the season may be over, Lombardi, along with many Ducks fans, can see the program is trending in the right direction in just her third year as head coach.
Heading into this weekend, only four Ducks players had played in an NCAA postseason game.
Next year, many of those student-athletes will be back with a year of postseason softball under their belts and ready to advance further.