Arkansas softball's power hitting sends Razorbacks to NCAA super regionals with win vs. Oregon

Christina Long
Fort Smith Times Record
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FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas softball is bound for the NCAA Tournament super regionals for the second straight season and the third time under coach Courtney Deifel.

The fourth-seeded Razorbacks (47-9) eliminated Oregon (33-18) with a 9-3 win Sunday to advance.

Where Saturday's win over Oregon came thanks to one productive inning, Arkansas' Sunday victory could be attributed to big hits throughout the game. 

Recent history repeated itself in the second inning. Just like the sixth inning of Saturday's game, designated hitter Linnie Malkin launched a home run to start the scoring for Arkansas. Her 22nd homer of the year was a solo shot to deep left field.

Then, just as she did Saturday, right fielder Kacie Hoffmann came to the plate and hit a solo home run to give Arkansas a 2-0 lead. First baseman Danielle Gibson made it 3-0 with the third solo homer of the game.

With two outs in the sixth and Arkansas up 4-3, Deifel sent sophomore Rylin Hedgecock in to pinch hit with the bases loaded. Hedgecock hit a bases-clearing double, her third extra-base hit of the season, to put the Razorbacks up 7-3.

A fourth Arkansas home run blew the game open shortly thereafter. Center fielder KB Sides hit her 13th of the year, a two-run blast to give the Razorbacks a 9-3 lead that would hold.

"I think you're seeing us click on all cylinders," Gibson said. "Everything is going our way right now, and we're just trying to maintain that. ... It's what we practice for, it's what we train for in the fall, to be able to play really good softball in May and June."

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Series of errors makes it close

In the fourth inning with the Razorbacks up 3-0, two Arkansas errors on one play allowed three runs to score. Mary Haff had walked the leadoff batter and allowed a single to the next, bringing Oregon's Ariel Carlson to the plate with two on. Carlson laced a double through the gap in left field that drove in one run.

Left fielder Hannah McEwen tried to get the runner at second, but it got past the second baseman and into right field. Right fielder Kacie Hoffmann then tried to get the runner going to third, but that throw, too, missed the third baseman. All three runners came home on the play to make it 3-3.

"I was talking to (assistant coach Matt Meuchel) and saying, 'I don't really like the vibe right now,' " Deifel said. "It doesn't take a ton to refocus this team. That's the nice thing. They just have a ton of confidence in themselves, so we just challenged them to answer and challenged them, 'Hey, let's get control of the game.'"

The Razorbacks did so in the sixth inning once again, thanks in part to a costly Oregon mistake. The Razorbacks broke the tie when pinch-runner Cally Kildow came home on a wild pitch, which started the six-run rally.

Mary Haff stays cool

Haff entered Sunday on a 15-inning scoreless streak, which she extended to 18 before the three-run fourth. Two of the Ducks' runs were unearned thanks to the errors, and Haff stayed in the circle for the rest of the game.

"After those three runs, she just kind of dug in, and she didn't flinch," Deifel said. "She just stayed the course, trusted herself. She trusted her defense. ...  She just flat fought for us today."

Haff finished with six hits, three runs, one earned run, one walk and four strikeouts.

Up next

As the No. 4 national seed, Arkansas will host super regionals at Bogle Park starting Thursday. The Razorbacks will play Texas at 6 p.m. CT (ESPN2) for a best-of-three series with a trip to the Women's College World Series on the line.

Christina Long covers the Arkansas Razorbacks. You can email her at clong@swtimes.com or follow her on Twitter @christinalong00.

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