After second baseman Riley Henricks flied out to center to start the inning, the Pilots got back-to-back singles by catcher Beau Fraser and third baseman Matt Mardesich and loaded the bases after pinch hitter Ben Grubb was hit by reliever Porter Clayton. Clayton then walked first baseman Brian Frattali to force in Fraser.
Two batters later, designated hitter Kevin Armijo hit a single up the middle off of junior reliever Scott McGough to score two more and push the Pilots lead to 5-1.
"The bullpen is going to be fine," said Manager George Horton. "I'm not worried one bit about our bullpen or our pitching."
"We're not feeling shaky," said Clayton of the struggling bullpen. "[Coach Andrew Checketts] teaches us mentality over mechanics so we definitely have our mentality straight. The baseball gods aren't helping us right now."
The Ducks tried to stage a rally in the bottom half of the inning. Sophomore DH Ryan Hambright started it by knocking a double down the left field line. Then, after freshman left fielder Connor Hofmann was hit by a pitch, junior shortstop KC Serna got his first hit of the season since returning from suspension – an infield single to load the bases.
That was supposed to bring up the hot bat of senior center fielder Marcus Piazzisi, who was 2-for-2 with a walk on the day. But, Horton chose to pinch hit, sending in redshirt senior infielder Shawn Peterson.
"He struggles against left-handers," Horton said of his decision to sit Piazzisi. "He had a great day today, he's our best offensive player and there was a percentage deal."
Peterson struck out looking. Freshman right fielder Aaron Jones came up with a two-out single to score Hambright and Hofmann, but that was as close as the Ducks would get. Pilots closer Chris Dennis came on to record his fourth save and continued to show why he is up for the Stopper of the Year Award, given to the best relief pitcher in college baseball.
Jones regained the stroke he had in Hawaii, going 2-for-4, driving in all of the Ducks three runs. Jones and Piazzisi combined to go 4-for-6 and the plate with a walk while the rest of the lineup combined to hit for a dismal 4-for-28.
"Guys are just trying to do too much," said Jones. "Our motto is ‘control the control-ables.' We just need to go up to the plate with an empty mindset and do our job."
Pilots starter Kyle Kraus turned in his second consecutive quality start giving up only one run on four hits in six innings. Kraus seemed to avoid the key mistakes that Ducks starter Alex Keudell couldn't in his six and one-third innings of work.
Despite a solid start, the junior gave up a two-out home run to Pilots second baseman Riley Hendricks in the first inning, and a double to left fielder Turner Gill that scored Mardesich in the fifth that put the Pilots ahead 2-1 at the time.
But, Horton seems more concerned about getting his offense in gear as they head south to play Long Beach State in a three game series starting on Friday.
"I'm the coach and whatever inefficiencies we have start with me," he said. "I can assure you that we'll dig in very hard. And, if it's mental toughness, then they'll have more of Coach Horton than they can handle."
"We've got to fix a lot of things right now to become a good baseball team and right now I don't think we are a very good baseball team. We can be, but we aren't." Horton said.
GAME NOTES –
KC Serna went one-for-five in his return today.
Horton said after the game that he can't wait to play Long Beach State this weekend, a team he has a history with dating back to his days at Cal State Fullerton. He said that he's looking forward to the tough road challenge. "I'll be ready. I hope my team is," he said.
Horton tipped his cap to the Pilots, who have now defeated the Ducks in five of the six games they've played since Oregon reinstated the baseball program. He mentioned, "There's some kids on that team that wanted to be Ducks that we didn't recruit and [Pilots manager Chris Speery] is beating us with guys we didn't think could play for us."