EUGENE, Ore. — At the time it seemed an innocent gesture: Freshman Hailey Decker, upon checking into her dorm room last August, wrote on the white board that hung from the door, “Nebraska Softball, Goal: OKC.”
That would be Oklahoma City, site each year of the Women's College World Series, which the Huskers hadn't reached in a decade.
Decker was one of seven incoming freshmen to the program, and her scribbling caused a bit of a buzz among the group. When practice started later in the fall, she wrote the same thing in the Huskers' clubhouse — “Goal: OKC.” It has remained there since.
On Sunday, Decker and another Nebraska freshman, pitcher Emily Lockman, helped make that dream a reality. Lockman threw seven strong innings and Decker doubled twice as the No. 16 Huskers upset No. 3 Oregon 4-2 in the third game of their NCAA super regional.
Nebraska reached the WCWS for the seventh time, and the first since 2002, prior to the implementation of the super regional format. The eight-team field begins play Thursday, with the Huskers to face Washington at 11 a.m.
“From the first day of practice, there was something different about this team,” said Decker, a native of Keizer, Ore., who had friends and family in the stands for the three-game weekend super regional. “We did have ups and downs; we're young, and we went through some hard times. But you knew there was something different about this team.”
For the third time this season, Nebraska (45-14) bounced back from a loss in the opening game of a doubleheader to win the nightcap. they lost Sunday afternoon to the Ducks 4-3 in 11 innings to force a decisive third game.
“I've been coaching for nearly 30 years, and I can honestly tell you I've never been more proud of a group of young women,” Nebraska coach Rhonda Revelle said. “From day one, the investment, the buy-in, the commitment to a team regardless of who had what role, it's been really incredible.”
Lockman (15-5) was superb in the clincher, allowing eights hits and a walk while striking out five. Two runs came across in the first after two very questionable calls on the bases — a steal of second on which the tag appeared to be made, and an Oregon runner ruled safe on a bang-bang play at first — but Lockman settled down after that for her 15th complete game.
“I just knew if I kept playing my game and throwing my pitches it would fall into place,” said the freshman from Corona, Calif. “I trusted my team behind me. It didn't really faze me.”
Those two early runs by the Ducks tied the game 2-2, after an Oregon error allowed Nebraska to score twice in the top of the first. The Huskers scored what proved to be the winning run in the third — Courtney Breault singled to shortstop, went to third on a double by Decker and scored on another single to shortstop, by Alicia Armstrong.
Nebraska added an insurance run in the sixth, when Decker doubled, took third on an error and was driven in by Mattie Fowler. That was the only damage the Huskers could do all day against freshman Cheridan Hawkins, who threw seven scoreless innings to win Sunday's opener and again came on in relief of Pac-12 pitcher of the year Jessica Moore (27-6) in the nightcap.
When Lockman induced a double play to end the super regional, Nebraska players sought out Revelle to douse her with an ice bucket. At first the coach tried to run, before stopping in her tracks, willing to accept a celebratory ice bath that seemed so improbable months ago.
“I don't know that anybody outside of our circle would have even thought this was possible,” Revelle said. “I don't think anybody was talking about Nebraska softball in this capacity the first weekend. We just kept chipping away.”
All the way to OKC.
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