Following its loss at Arizona over the weekend, Mike White challenged his top-ranked Oregon softball team to treat Saturday's series finale as the final game of an NCAA regional.
The No. 1 Ducks responded with a 16-hit dismantling of the ninth-ranked Wildcats before a sold-out crowd of 2,300 at Hillenbrand Stadium, capping a 20-win conference season for the two-time defending Pac-12 champions.
The victory helped Oregon secure the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA softball championship tournament for the first time in school history. Gathered with friends and family at the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex on Sunday evening, the team watched ESPNU's selection show and let out a big cheer when the seeding was announced.
"We're really excited to get that seed," senior Courtney Ceo said. "We know we belong there. We wanted this and we got it, now it's time to live it up."
The Ducks will host WAC tournament champion Utah Valley, Albany out of the American East Conference and Big Ten runner-up Wisconsin in the Eugene regional, which will begin Friday at Howe Field.
"Hopefully we'll take every game like it's going to be a final," said White, who is 16-9 in his postseason career at Oregon. "All these teams this year are pretty close together. The top 20 teams, anybody can beat anybody. We've got to make sure we have our 'A' game going."
It's the third consecutive season that Oregon (49-7-1) has hosted a regional, and the Ducks will see two familiar opponents this weekend.
Oregon won both games of a nonconference doubleheader against Utah Valley on April 29, and knocked off Wisconsin in the regional final a year ago.
The Ducks were upset by Nebraska in the super regionals the following week, a series that's still fresh in the minds of many Oregon players.
"It's motivated us all season," Ceo said. "That's a bitter taste in our mouth that we've had all year since the day we lost and had to walk off our own field and not make it to the world series. It's been our motivator and that fire underneath us all year long."
The winner of the Eugene regional will advance to play the winner of the Minneapolis regional, hosted by No. 16 Minnesota. Oregon has reached the super regionals four straight years under White and advanced to the Women's College World Series in Oklahoma City in 2012.
Other Pac-12 teams that made the 64-team tournament field include No. 3 UCLA, No. 9 Arizona State, No. 11 Arizona and No. 12 Washington.
The Southeastern Conference had a tournament-high 11 teams selected, including six national seeds in No. 2 Alabama, No. 4 Georgia, No. 5 Florida, No. 10 Tennessee, No. 14 Kentucky and No. 15 Missouri.