Softball Claims No. 1 Ranking

Softball is Unanimous No. 1-ranked Team, While Baseball Also Maintains National Ranking.

Courtney Ceo is second in the nation with a
.486 batting average (Photo: GoDucks.com)

The football team finished 2013 ranked No. 10 in the nation, and beat the legendary Texas Longhorns in the Alamo Bowl. The men’s basketball team lost in the NCAA Tournament to eventual Final Four team Wisconsin. The volleyball team lost in its NCAA Tournament to eventual Elite Eight team Nebraska.

That’s three successful programs that could all be forgiven for being green (and yellow) with envy at the success currently being enjoyed by the Ducks’ softball team (41-5, 14-1).

The Ducks started the season ranked No. 8 in the nation, and after taking two out of three games against top-ranked UCLA to start April, earned the program’s first-ever No. 1 national ranking.

A sweep of in-state rivals Oregon State—a series that saw the Ducks run rule the Beavers in two of the three games—saw the team cement its position as the best in the country, becoming the unanimous No. 1 team in both major softball polls.

The Ducks are barely breaking a sweat as they storm through their schedule, too. Despite playing in what is historically the country’s best softball conference—one which currently has five teams among the nation’s top 11—the Ducks have run-ruled at least once each conference opponent they’ve faced: 8-0 over No. 5 Washington, 12-4 over then-No. 1 UCLA, 10-2 and 18-0 against Oregon State, and 9-1 and 15-3 against California. Additionally, after scoring 15 or more runs just once previously under head coach Mike White, the Ducks topped that mark twice last week alone.

“[Being No. 1 is] nothing to be afraid of,” said White. “We’re here, and we’re enjoying it, and we’re going to continue to play good softball. We talk a lot about process: it shouldn’t matter if you’re on a three-game winning streak or a three-game losing streak, it doesn’t matter. That’s being put to the test right now. There’s a lot of season left, and I’m not going to say we’re going to go unbeaten, we’re just going to take it one game at a time.”

Of their five losses, two have come against the then-No. 1 ranked team in the nation: one to UCLA and one to Florida, who needed an extra inning to beat the Ducks by one run. The Gators, from the rising softball powerhouse SEC—the conference normally known for its football exploits currently has eight teams ranked in softball—and the Bruins are the nation’s third- and second-ranked teams respectively.

The Ducks rank fifth nationally with a .348 team batting average, and are 16th with a team ERA of 1.81. Third baseman Courtney Ceo’s batting average of .486 is good for second in the nation, while first baseman Kailee Cuico is among the nation’s leaders with 12 home runs through 43 games—including a grand slam and a three-run homer in the run rule win over UCLA. Cheridan Hawkins is 25-3 with an ERA of 1.41 to lead the Ducks in the circle, and is eighth in the country with 228 strikeouts.

The softball team has just two home series left this year, a midweek doubleheader against Utah Valley (13-31, 5-7) on April 29, and a three-game series against No. 5 Arizona State (38-7, 11-3) on May 2–4.

Mitchell Tolman leads the Ducks with a .358
batting average (Photo: Daily Emerald)

On the other side of campus from Howe Field, the Ducks baseball team is 31-10 and ranked No. 19 in the nation in the Baseball America Poll. A sweep at the hands of then-No. 5 Cal State Fullerton in February knocked the Ducks from the top 10, and back-to-back road series losses against Stanford and Washington almost knocked the team out of the rankings altogether.

However, a return to the friendly confines of PK Park got the team back on track, and seven straight wins, part of a streak of nine consecutive victories, helped the team move back to No. 19 ahead of a big series against No. 5 Oregon State (27-7, 11-4).

Third baseman Mitchell Tolman tops the team with a .353 batting average, while catcher Shaun Chase is the leading slugger with five home runs. On the mound, Matt Krook (2-1) had been the top Duck with an ERA of 1.79 and 60 strikeouts in eight starts, but picked up an injury against the Huskies. Tommy Thorpe has replaced him as the team’s ace, and is 6-3 with 55 strikeouts and an ERA of 2.26. Jake Reed (2-1) leads the team with 10 saves.

In its most recent Pac-12 series, the Ducks swept Washington State 11-1, 6-3, and 2-1. The 6-3 victory was a historic one for head coach George Horton, as it was his 700th win as a Division I coach. Thorpe started the first game of the series and did not allow a run in seven innings.

“The way we look at things is, we take care of one game at a time, one opponent at a time,” said Horton. “We’re not looking ahead and yes, we’ve had some injuries to deal with but we like to think of it as the next step up and somebody is going to replace those guys that are injured. We still consider ourselves a contender and expect to be successful in the next couple of weeks.”

The Ducks have two more home weekend series this year, against Arizona (17-23, 6-12) on May 2-4 and California (16-19, 5-10) on May 22-24, in addition to midweek games against the Beavers on May 6 and 20, and Pacific (21-20, 10-8) on May 13.