EUGENE, Ore. -- There was a familiarity in coming to Oregon for the NCAA tournament regional, having played there just a year ago. Ultimately, Wisconsin’s tournament run would end in an all too familiar fashion as well, as the Badgers fell 6-0 to top-ranked Oregon (52-7-1) in the Eugene Regional championship game on Sunday.
Wisconsin (36-20) finished the season with 36 wins, the second-highest total in school history. The Badgers also won a pair of NCAA tournament games for just the second time ever, matching their tournament run from 2013.
Sunday’s loss marked the end of incredible careers for Wisconsin’s four seniors: Cassandra Darrah, Mary Massei, Michelle Mueller and Stephanie Peace. Collectively, the group will go down as the winningest class is UW history at 144-75.
“That senior class helped put us on the map,” UW head coach Yvette Healy said. “It will be up to the rest of them to help move us forward. That senior class is going to be special to our coaching staff forever. We’ll always remember them as the first group that we got for four years and they really made some history.”
Freshman Chloe Miller (2 HR, 3 RBI) and seniors Mary Massei (.333 BA, R, 2B, HR, 3 RBI, SB) and Stephanie Peace (.444 BA, 3 R, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 11 TB) took home all-region honors for Wisconsin.
The Ducks set the tone early on their home field with a two-run homer from Janie Takeda in the first inning. A solo blast from Courtney Ceo in the second frame had the Badgers in an early 3-0 hole.
In Saturday’s win over Albany, UW was able to come back from a four-run deficit, but this time the rally never came. Oregon tacked on three insurance runs in the fifth inning to move on to the Super Regional round next weekend.
“Oregon’s lineup was outstanding,” Healy said. “They’re strong and impressive. It’s fun for us to see what the best in the nation looks like so as these guys keep training, they know what to work for.”
The Badgers had several chances to plate a run, getting two runners on base four times in the last five innings. However, they just couldn’t come up with a clutch hit, going 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position.
In the second inning, Chloe Miller led off with a single and advanced to third on a pair of wild pitches with nobody out. However, a groundout and a pair of pop-ups allowed Oregon to escape unscathed. In the fourth, Wisconsin had runners at second and third with two outs but Massei came up empty, ending the threat.
“We did a better job of pressuring today,” junior Megan Tancill explained. “The goal was to see how much pressure we could put on their defense. We just didn’t get the ball rolling the way we wanted to sometimes today.”
UW fought until the final out, drawing back-to-back walks in the seventh off Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year Cheridan Hawkins, who came on in relief of starter Karissa Hovinga. But Hawkins gathered herself with consecutive strikeouts to finish the game.
Junior Maria Van Abel registered two of the Badgers’ five hits as well as posting her 25th steal of the season. Sophomore Taylor-Paige Stewart (15-7) went the distance in the circle for Wisconsin, allowing six earned runs in seven innings with five strikeouts and just two walks.
“This was a great experience for the team,” Van Abel said. “Getting back to the NCAAs and playing on the big stage is important for the younger girls. Making it here was a great way to end the season. We fought through a lot of adversity and our senior class has been phenomenal in their careers. To get back here and take two games in the NCAA tournament is exciting for all of us.”
Hovinga (17-2) took the win as she and Hawkins combined for the complete-game shutout, finishing with 11 strikeouts and three walks.