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Softball Razorbacks best Oregon to earn trip to Super Regional

Team photo after winning the NCAA Softball Tournament Fayetteville Regional between the Arkansas Razorbacks and the Oregon Ducks on Sunday, May 22, 2022. (Alan Jamison, Nate Allen Sports Service)


By Otis Kirk

Special to the Nate Allen Sports Service

FAYETTEVILLE — No. 4 Arkansas captured the Fayetteville Regional with a 9-3 win over Oregon on Sunday at Bogle Park.

Arkansas and Oregon was tied at 3 heading to the top of the sixth inning. That is when the Razorbacks exploded for six runs to put the game out of reach. The Razorbacks went through the bracket undefeated. They downed Princeton 11-0 in the opener on Friday and sent Oregon to the loser’s bracket on Saturday 6-2. Courtney Deifel was pleased with how her team responded to the challenge.

“I’m just really proud of the team,” Deifel said. “Proud of the team for just taking care of business all weekend. I thought they showed a ton of toughness and a ton of resilience. And just stayed the course and found a way to get the job done.”

In the sixth inning, Taylor Ellsworth walked, Danielle Gibson hit one to first who tried to get the lead runner at second but both Ellsworth and Gibson were safe. Then Taylor Gammill walked to load the bases. Linnie Malkin then was called out on a third strike that appeared to be several inches outside. A passed ball though allowed Ellsworth to score with Gibson and Gammill advancing a base. Oregon then intentionally walked Kacie Hoffmann to load the bases. Audrie LaValley then popped up to shortstop for the second out and the Razorbacks holding a 4-3 lead.

It was at that point Deifel opted to pinch hit Rylin Hedgecock for Marlene Friedman. Hedgecock sent one into deep center field that was just out of the reach of Oregon’s Jasmine Williams. Hedgecock got a double and all three runners scored. Then SEC Player of the Year KB Sides slapped one over the fence to put Arkansas up by the final margin. Deifel was impressed with Hedgecock’s hit that broke the game open.

“Then Rylin to come through in that moment,” Deifel said. “That is the toughest role in this sport. Just to stay level in that moment and come through was just so huge. I’m just really, really proud of Rylin.”

Hedgecock talked about what was going through her mind when Deifel sent her to the plate.

“I just try to stay relaxed and not make the situation bigger than it is,” Hedgecock said. “Like I just kinda think of it as just another at bat. Stay relaxed. I was just looking for something over the plate. She left it over the plate and that was nice. But I just like to see over the plate and swing as hard as I can.”

The Razorbacks first got on the scoreboard in the top of the second when Malkin and Hoffmann hit back-to-back home runs. They did the same thing on Saturday. Gibson hit a solo shot in the top of the fourth that allowed Arkansas to take a 3-0 lead.

It uncharacteristically fell apart on defense for Arkansas in the bottom of the fourth though. Mary Haff walked Hanna Delgado and then Allee Bunker singled to left field to start the inning. Ariel Carlson then followed with a single to left field. Hannah McEwen threw the ball to second trying to get Carlson going to second base. However the ball went into right field and then Hoffmann threw it away at third allowing Carlson to circle the bases and tied the game. Deifel talked about what they told the team after that inning.’

“Coach (Matt) Meuchel pulled us in right after that inning was over and just kind of said it like it was,” Deifel said. “It was an unfortunate play. We’ve kept control of the game so far and let’s keep control of the game. I think it took us a little bit to bring back our emotions and bring back our focus. But things that happen like that are just prepping us for us what’s to come. It’s going to be hard ballgames pretty soon. But the ability for us to flip a switch and continue really well. I love to see that from us and it’s really rare to see a team do that.”

Haff allowed six hits, three runs, only one earned, four strikeouts and one walk to pick up the win.

“I thought Mary was very, very good today,” Deifel said. “Just staying the course when we uncharacteristically giving some runs away. It’s not what we do. We had a chance to answer and that’s what we did.”

Oregon Coach Melyssa Lombardi is friends with Deifel and had good things to say about the Arkansas coach.

“I’ve said it before I’ve known Courtney for a long time and watched her come into this program,” Lombardi said. “I knew where this program was before she got here. This program transformed year after year. You can see it’s exciting. I’m excited for her. I wish her nothing but the best. They’re an excellent, excellent team. They’ve got great pitching, explosive hitters and they’re solid on defense.”

The Razorbacks (47-9) set a school record for wins in one season. They will now advance to next weekend’s Super Regionals also at Bogle Park against either Texas or Washington.

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