The best-of-three series will continue at Noon on Sunday, with a potential double-header.
"We've got a chance to win this thing," said Missouri Coach Ehren Earleywine.
In addition to the natural excitement generated by an opportunity to advance to Oklahoma City for the eight-team double-elimination World Series, this match-up contains some other interesting facets. Oregon's first-year head coach, Mike White, is no rookie. Earleywine called his former USA national teammate one of the best pitchers he's ever seen, calling him "the Greg Maddox of softball". He also pointed out that White possesses an uncanny ability to read pitches in a pitcher's glove, which presents a whole other realm of challenges for Missouri.
Coach Earleywine said that his team has worked on concealing their pitches this week, and that he has a game plan to "counter Whitey's crafty competitiveness."
"I'm telling you," said Coach Earleywine, "the signature thing about Oregon, is that they're going to pitch smart, because that's what he did."
Another interesting aspect of this match-up are some of the similarities of these two teams. Both Missouri and Oregon are young teams who compete in two of the top conferences in the country. Neither team has a really overpoweringly dominant pitcher, although Missouri's Kristin Nottelmann (22-7, 2.13 ERA) and Oregon's Jessica Moore (16-11, 1.87 ERA) have been nearly dominant during their team's post-season runs. Each of these teams feature fabulous freshmen, Missouri's Jenna Marston (.377 BA, 44 R, 5 HR, 52 RBI) and Oregon's Samantha Pappas (.389 BA, 30 R, 11 HR, 48 RBI). Like Missouri, most of Oregon's best players are freshmen and sophomores. On the surface, it appears that Oregon may have the deeper pitching staff, but Missouri is deeper with position players. I'm not sure how much of a factor pitching depth will be in this series. It probably won't come into play until Sunday, if and when the series is extended to a third game.
Several of Oregon's top hitters bat from the left side, including their best player in right-fielder Pappas. That could allow Missouri's senior lefty, Jana Hainey (10-2, 2.92 ERA), a slight advantage. She's been pretty effective against left-handed hitters this year.
Oregon has a couple of pitching options behind Moore, sophomores Mikayla Endicott (4-2, 3.50 ERA) and Samantha Skillingstad (11-6, 2.77 ERA). They also have little-used lefty, junior Brittany Rumfelt (5-0, 2.73 ERA).
Oregon looks to be a scrappy bunch, with pretty good balance and power throughout the middle of the line-up. They appear to be a very good defensive team. The Ducks don't really run much, with a team total of 45 stolen bases on the season.
Enter Missouri junior All-American Rhea Taylor (.457 BA, 62 R, 7 HR, 39 RBI, 45-48 SB). Just as she has done all season, Taylor has the ability to be the difference in this series. Oregon's lead-off hitter, freshman left-fielder Allie Burger (.397 BA, 35 R, 25 RBI, 7-9 SB), is a table-setter and a quality run producer. But, she's not yet on Taylor's level.
"It's really exciting!" said Taylor of the opportunity to play at home this weekend. "Coming off of regionals, you know, we won that. I think it will be really good for us, being in front of our fans at Super Regionals. And, I think we have a good chance............... We've just got to go into this weekend with a good feeling, and confidence knowing that we've done the things to prepare for this weekend."
Coach Earleywine went ahead and named his game one starter.
"The confidence of Kristin Nottelmann is at an all-time high," said Coach Earleywine of his sophomore pitcher. "She's going to start on Saturday. She's earned it."
"That's the best I've ever seen her pitch." said a smiling Rhea Taylor, describing Nottelmann's performance in the regional last weekend.
I expect University Field to be teeming with an overflow crowd all weekend, and the action on the field to be hard-fought and exciting.