UVU softball: Utah Valley meets No. 1 Oregon in NCAA Regional debut
The Utah Valley University softball team makes its NCAA Tournament debut Friday at the Eugene Regional where it meets host and overall No. 1 seed Oregon at 6 p.m. MT. The opening round contest between the Wolverines and Ducks will be aired live on the Pac-12 Network and regional networks Pac-12 Los Angeles and Pac-12 Mountain.
Utah Valley (18-40, 5-9 WAC) punched its first-ever ticket to the postseason when it claimed the WAC Tournament title last week, going a perfect 4-0 over the weekend in Seattle. It is also the first trip to the NCAA Tournament for any team sport at UVU. Meanwhile, Oregon (49-6-1, 20-3-1 Pac-12) is the Pac-12 regular season champions and has held the nation's No. 1 ranking for six consecutive weeks. During the NCAA Softball Championship Selection Show on Sunday night, it was announced the Ducks would be the No. 1 overall seed for this year's championship.
"Oregon is one of the most successful teams in the country by far and has performed all year long," UVU head coach Nikki Palmer said. "There's no secret that they are going to be a tough go for us, but I think that we're ready. It's exciting to be able to face them and we want to prove that we deserve to be on the field with them."
This is the second time this season the Wolverines have trekked to Eugene as they met the Ducks in late April for a non-conference doubleheader. After falling 8-0 in game one, Utah Valley dropped a tight second game to top-ranked UO, 5-4. The Wolverines fell behind 4-1 in that one before battling back to level the score at 5-5 in the fifth inning behind Morgan Summers' two-RBI triple. A solo home run in the sixth proved the difference for Oregon as staff ace Cheridan Hawkins (30-4) held UVU without a hit over the final nine outs of the contest.
UVU pitcher Josi Summers (10-17) also appeared in relief that game, suffering the loss despite allowing only two runs and striking out three over 5.1 innings pitched. She was named the WAC Tournament MVP last weekend after going 3-0 with a save during the Wolverines' championship run. She struck out 10 batters and allowed only 10 hits through 21.2 innings of work.
The sophomore lefty Hawkins has led UO in the circle throughout the season, holding a 30-4 record and a 1.56 ERA. The Anderson, California, native was recently voted the 2014 Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year after going 14-2 in conference play. Joining Hawkins with individual accolades was infielder Courtney Ceo. The senior owns a .481 batting average this season and hit at a .491 clip over the Pac-12 season on her way to being named the league's Batting Champion. She has hit three home runs and has 32 RBIs this season.
"Ceo gets on base a lot so we'll be challenged to try to keep her off her game a little bit," Palmer said. "Hawkins does a great job in the circle and we've done our best to prepare for her. But we're just going to keep playing our game and adjust with the scouting report as we need to and see if we can stay hot."
Ceo and Hawkins are in the final 10 for the USA Softball National Player of the Year Award — the winner of which will be revealed May 27.
Utah Valley was without a handful of key players in its previous meeting with Oregon, including sluggers Debra Lovell and Amanda Robinson who stayed in Orem to handle academic responsibilities. Lovell is a first team All-WAC selection and was picked to the WAC's All-Tournament team after hitting three home runs — two of which came in the championship game — over the weekend. Robinson earned a spot on the All-WAC second team and leads the team with 11 home runs this season.
The winner of Friday night's contest between the Ducks and Wolverines will advance to face the winner of the regional's opener between Albany and Wisconsin. UVU has met Albany once this season, earning a 3-0 win at the Rebel Spring Games in Winter Haven, Florida, while it hasn't faced Wisconsin since the 2008 season.
Kellen Hiser is an assistant sports information director at Utah Valley University. For more information on Wolverine athletics, visit WolverineGreen.com.
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