I just finished watching the Oregon softball team come from behind in the final inning to beat Kentucky and advance to the Women's College World Series.
It was an amazing game.
Since I was recording it, and the Ducks were down a distressing 5-2 at the end of the sixth, I figured there was little chance a comeback was in order. So I acceded to our dog's wordless demand and took her for a walk just before the seventh inning got underway.
Returning home, I settled in to watch the final inning. The end result -- four runs scored in the top of the seventh and holding Kentucky scoreless in the bottom of the inning -- led to this joyous celebration by the Oregon softball team that had me feeling happy also.
Mostly for the Ducks, since I live in Salem, Oregon.
But part of the smiling I felt inside myself arose from memories of how pitifully limited girls' sports were back in my high school days, 1962-66. I just checked my senior yearbook to make sure I recalled correctly that the only sports available to girls at Woodlake Union High School (central California) were tennis and swimming.
Yes, that was the case. Boys had football, basketball, baseball, track, wrestling, tennis, and swimming.
Miranda Elish, a freshman, pitched the final innings for the Ducks. She was remarkably poised in the crucial bottom of the seventh, when Kentucky had their 2-3-4 hitters coming up. I'm pretty sure I was more nervous than she was when she got behind in the count -- then proceeded to either strike out the batter or retire them without a hit.
Now, I realize that I'm damn old. It's been over fifty years since I graduated from high school.
Obviously a lot of societal change can happen in half a century. Still... reading Elish's softball background on the GoDucks web site hit home to me how great it is that girls today have so many more athletic (and other) options in high school than was the case in the not-so-good-old-days of the 1960s.
Ranked the No. 1 recruit in the nation by FloSoftball.com…Three-time Indiana Gatorade Player of the Year…A MaxPreps first team All-American in 2016...Went 15-2 in her senior season with a 0.41 ERA with 196 strikeouts in 103 innings with just 13 walks...At the plate as a senior, hit .505 with seven homers and 26 RBIs...Posted a 0.65 ERA and a 15-1 record with 198 strikeouts in 107 inning as a junior…Allowed just 39 hits as a junior while collecting 46 hits as a batter…Was the MaxPreps National Sophomore of the Year in 2014 and was also named first team All-State and conference Player of the Year…As a sophomore, went 24-1 with a 0.31 ERA with 223 strikeouts and 18 walks in 137 innings.
Led her club team, the Beverly Bandits to a national championship (16U) in the summer before her sophomore year…Played with Jenna Lilley and Alexis Mack on the Bandits.
The Kentucky softball team seemed almost as equally skilled as the Oregon team. Heck, to get to a super-regional and be two games away from the Women's Softball World Series, they'd have to be. (Friday Oregon won the first game in the best of three series, so Kentucky needed to win today and then also tomorrow.)
The Ducks batter hit the ball hard into the gap between the shortstop and second base. It should have been a hit, tying the game. But this blurry photo from my recording of the game shows the Kentucky shortstop catching the yellow ball while stretched full out and flying through the air about a foot off the ground. (The camera was shooting through a net.)
It was one of the most athletic plays I've ever seen on a ball field. Softball or baseball.
Yeah, women can hit, throw, run, pitch, and field the ball. Not in the same way as men do, of course. But damn well, based on the Oregon softball games I've watched with great enjoyment the past few weeks as they've won at both the regional and super-regional level.
So congratulations to the Ducks softball team for making it to the World Series after a heartbreaking loss last year to UCLA in the super-regional.
Also, congratulations to girl's/women's sports in general. I realize that youngish people today take female athletic opportunities for granted, since they've grown up with (almost) equal opportunity in this area.
But as I've noted, older folks like me look upon 21st century high school and college women's sports through eyes that marvel at how far females have come. Given how many inequities still exist in this country, it's good to know that some things have gotten a lot better.
Like the ability of skilled, talented, personable, athletic women such as those who make up the Ducks softball team to play at such a high level. Whether or not they finish on top in the College Softball World Series, they're winners.