Chip Souza is the sports editor of the four daily newspapers that comprise Northwest Arkansas Newspapers. Chip has been a sports writer for most of the past 26 years, earning numerous awards in Texas and Arkansas. Chip was named the sports editor of The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas in 2004 and the sports section earned six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards, including Top 10 Daily, Top 10 Sunday and Top 10 Special Section in its circulation category.
Challenge answered: Razorbacks rout Oregon, advance to super regional
Arkansas Taylor Ellsworth (17) and infielder Raigan Kramer (1) react after a score, Sunday, May 22, 2022 during the sixth inning of the championship game of the Fayetteville Regional Softball Tournament at Bogle Park in Fayetteville. Check out nwaonline.com/220523Daily/ and nwadg.com/photos for the photo gallery.
FAYETTEVILLE — Opportunities to swing the bat had not come around often for Rylin Hedgecock this season.
The University of Arkansas redshirt sophomore had just 41 at-bats coming into Sunday’s NCAA Fayetteville Regional championship game, and she had about as many strikeouts (8) as she did RBI (9) when she stepped into the batter’s box in the top of the sixth inning of a one-run game.
With one swing of the bat, Hedgecock went from relative unknown to legend for the Arkansas softball program. Her bases-clearing double broke open a close game against Oregon and propelled the No. 4 national seed Razorbacks into the Super Regional with a 9-3 win in front of a sold-out crowd of 3,058 at Bogle Park.
“I just tried to stay relaxed and just not make the situation bigger than what it is,” said Hedgecock. “I just kind of think of it as another at-bat and just stay in the moment.”
More from WholeHogSports: Watch as Courtney Deifel, players recap Fayetteville Regional title
With the bases loaded and two outs, Arkansas (47-9) was clinging to a 4-3 lead after squandering a 3-0 advantage on one disastrous play in the fourth inning. The Razorbacks, who regained the lead in the inning thanks to Cally Kildow coming home on a wild pitch by Oregon reliever Makenna Kliethermes, were hoping to add some insurance runs.
But a strikeout looking and a hard-hit liner to short had them in a hole with the bottom of the order up.
Arkansas Coach Courtney Deifel said she had complete confidence in the right-handed hitting Hedgecock to pinch-hit for Marlene Friedman.
“Honestly, if you have the privilege of seeing her in practice every day, it would be a no-brainer for you, too,” said Deifel of her decision to bring Hedgecock off the bench in that situation. “She is an incredibly talented hitter, obviously really strong. But she’s really level. She just does a really good job of staying level, staying in the moment, not making anything too big.”
Hedgecock got ahead in the count 3-1 against Kliethermes before she watched a strike to run the count full. On the next pitch, Hedgecock blasted the ball to deep center field that clipped the glove of Ducks center fielder Jasmine Williams and hit the base of the wall.
All three Arkansas baserunners scored easily and Hedgecock raced to second on a stand-up double.
“I was just looking for something out over the plate and she left it over the plate,” Hedgecock said. “That was nice. I just like to see the ball over the plate. It felt pretty good. Honestly I didn’t even really know where it went. I just hit it and kept running. I had to ask somebody where it went.”
KB Sides followed Hedgecock’s double with a two-run home run to straight-away center for a 9-3 lead, which was more than enough for Arkansas starter Mary Haff to close it out. Haff (20-4) went the distance to earn her second win of the regional.
Arkansas was cruising early, taking a 3-0 lead on solo home runs by Linnie Malkin, Kacie Hoffman and Danielle Gibson. Haff held Oregon (33-19) scoreless until the fourth when the complexion of the game changed on one play.
Hannah Delgado led off with a walk and Allee Bunker singled to left to put two runners on for Oregon with no outs. Ari Carlson followed with a single off glove of Arkansas shortstop Friedman, allowing Delgado to score from second.
The Ducks tacked on two more runs on Arkansas errors with Carlson racing around to score on a slide at the plate that tied the game at 3-3.
“After we gave up the three runs, I was talking to Matt [Meuchel] and I told him I didn’t really like the vibe right there,” Deifel said. “I felt like the wind kind of got knocked out of our sails. But he said, ‘OK, I’ve got them.’ And when they came off he refocused them. But it doesn’t take a ton to refocus this team.
"They have a ton of confidence in themselves. We just challenged them to answer.”
Haff was able to work her team out of the inning with three consecutive outs including a strikeout of Rachel Cid to end the inning.
From there, Arkansas took control in the sixth inning and Haff worked around a jam in the bottom of the inning when Bunker and Ari Carlson singled back-to-back for the Ducks with no outs. Haff did not give up a run as she coaxed three shallow fly balls.
The win gave Arkansas a program-best 47 wins on the season, eclipsing the previous high of 46 wins set in 1999. It also assured the Razorbacks of hosting a Super Regional next weekend against Texas, which took the Seattle Regional with a 3-2 win over Washington late Sunday.
Malkin was 2 for 4 for Arkansas. Bunker, Carlson and KK Humphreys all went 2 for 3 for the Ducks.
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