Why they're tipping their caps to Gwen Svekis' bat in Oregon

Oregon's Gwen Svekis had three home runs, including a grand slam, in a three-game sweep of Washington. Courtesy Oregon

Gwen Svekis may have grown up little more than a long home run from the Atlantic Ocean, but she established her lifelong Oregonian bona fides in recent days with one simple act that is prized south of the Columbia River: Clobbering Washington.

Just about the only thing that separates the rivalry between the University of Oregon and University of Washington from interstate classics like Michigan-Ohio State, Oklahoma-Texas, Indiana-Kentucky and Florida-Georgia is the vast expanse of America that separates most of us from the Ducks and Huskies. Whatever the perception of those who watch from a distance, for those in the Pacific Northwest, the competition across state lines is every bit as much a cultural fixture as those other rivalries.

In softball terms, No. 7 Oregon's series against No. 10 Washington also served as the first step in Oregon's pursuit of a fourth-consecutive conference title in a league in which only UCLA has ever done that -- and that happened more than two decades ago. There aren't many easy weekends in the Pac-12, but the first week of conference games offered what looked like Oregon's toughest road trip.

The rivalry always matters. The games matter. Svekis helped ensure the later innings didn't matter.

At the forefront of an Oregon offensive surge that produced 34 runs in a three-game sweep, the sophomore hit three home runs and a double, drove in nine runs and scored five times.

Her on-base percentage for the series was .700. She slugged 2.000.

After she homered in three consecutive at-bats over the first two games, Washington threw in the towel rather than throwing her anything she could hit. The Huskies walked her on a total of eight pitches in her next two at-bats in the second game and once more in the series finale.

For all of those reasons, she is espnW's player of the week.

"I thought it was a very important series for us to win and sweep because the Huskies are at the top of the Pac-12 with us this year," Svekis said. "I think I did a good job of taking the same approach each at-bat and each game. Our pitchers did an amazing job and our bats did their job, too."

In an example of dry wit rarely found in such places, Oregon's media guide begins Svekis' outlook for the season by saying, "Her prodigious bat will get her in the lineup somewhere."

The sentiment is a reflection of the reality that on a roster loaded with talent, finding playing time wasn't easily accomplished during her freshman season. Svekis started just 20 games in her first season, but she saw enough at-bats to total 63 total bases and a team-best .840 slugging percentage. In the series in Seattle, that meant one start each at catcher, designated player and left field.

The Ducks lead the nation in slugging percentage and rank fifth in runs per game. They are winning, at least for the time being, as much with their offense as they are with their pitching. They needed that offense and they needed Svekis to maintain control of the Pacific Northwest.

So just as it's a good thing they went to Ohio for Jenna Lilley and Georgia for Geri Ann Glasco (as a transfer), it's good they found Svekis in Florida.

More than most Pac-12 programs, Oregon's roster represents a national talent search. Considering the conference's home turf has long supplied not just its own programs but much of the nation with Division I softball players, it's understandable that few conference programs stray far from home. Oregon has six players from states beyond those that are home to Pac-12 schools or contiguous to those states. Only Stanford matches that in the league.

Her big weekend kept Oregon in control of the Pacific Northwest, and it was a first step toward remaining enthroned atop the conference.