EUGENE — Mike White recognizes the NCAA Regional pairing of No. 12 seed Texas with Oregon will naturally draw interest, but don’t count the former Ducks coach among those who find the likely postseason matchup entertaining.
White, who spent nine years at Oregon and led the Ducks to a 435-111-1 record with five Pac-12 titles and five Women’s College World Series appearances, left UO for Texas in the summer of 2018. He and former Ducks Lauren Burke, Shannon Rhodes and Mary Iakopo will host their former team, as well as Saint Francis (PA) and Texas State, in Austin starting Friday afternoon.
“It’s something you kind of expected that the political forces would get together and want to do something like this,” White said. “Oregon doesn’t deserve a (No.) 21 seed given their record in a lot of people’s eyes. You could say the same for Clemson. You can say the same for Washington not being the 16 seed. There’s a lot of things that could have been and maybe should have been but they weren’t.
“Definitely you hope that politics doesn’t take over sports and unfortunately you cannot say this wasn’t politics. I don’t know whose decision it was but obviously somebody thought it was a good idea. It’s going to create a lot of interest. That’s what they want.”
Both Texas and Oregon have legitimate gripes with their pairing in the regional round.
UO (37-15), which is ranked higher than UT in the two main polls, had a more than formidable case for hosting a regional, particularly rather than No. 15 seed Kentucky.
The Longhorns (39-11) drew a No. 2 seed in the Ducks, who even the NCAA softball selection committee chair Matt Larsen admitted are not the No. 21 true seed on the S-curve but said bracketing principles and geography were the main factors in sending Oregon to Texas.
“I’ll be honest, I was shocked,” said Burke, a Eugene native. “I was definitely shocked to see their name come up. I was excited though that we are getting to host a regional in general, but definitely the initial reaction was shock.”
Of course, this is more than your ordinary misaligned seeding of teams. The history between the programs is a powder keg. From White’s storied tenure and acrimonious departure, which led to Oregon hiring Melyssa Lombardi, then a mass exodus of players in the fall of 2018 with four following White to Texas in time for the 2019 season and others to Louisiana, Alabama, San Diego State and Ole Miss.
“There’s obviously the narrative that is the Oregon-Texas debacle and the saga and the drama that was a few years back,” Burke said. “I think there is definitely the narrative that’s there and you can’t really avoid that.”
It turned the Ducks from a team loaded with All-Americans and the No. 1 team in the country to a monumental rebuilding roster loaded with true freshmen and eventually just one pitcher, Jordan Dail, who transferred in from Virginia Tech during the winter.
Meanwhile, White tried to replicate what he had in Eugene in Austin.
Three years later, both programs are getting closer to where the Ducks were then.
“It’s been difficult to kind of restart,” White said. “In some ways it’s a lot tougher than what I thought it would be.
“Last year was a very, very good team and we were definitely probably would have made a run in the World Series if we had got out there.
“ We’ve struggled this year to get back to that level. … We will be a very dangerous team. We have to get past a tough regional; it’s a very tough regional.”
Lombardi and Haley Cruse, who along with Shaye Bowden are the only remaining UO players who played for White, both took the high road following Sunday night’s selection show when discussing the pairing .
Both Cruse and Burke said they’re focusing on the things they can control, which is easier said than done under the circumstances.
“What we can and what we will control is the attitude that we show up with, the effort that we give and the perspective that we have in our heads,” Burke said.
“We’re going to come out and try and represent Texas, the Big 12 Conference and this university to the best of our abilities and try our absolute best to ignore the outside noise because it is loud. ”