Oregon baseball readies for Washington

The Ducks look to turn around an up and down season against their lowly rivals this weekend at PK Park.

Focus – the Oregon Ducks baseball team (14-12, 0-3) has had trouble keeping it at times this season. After reeling off eight straight wins in the middle of March, the team has faltered, losing five of six. Last weekend they were swept soundly in their conference opening series against the No. 5 Arizona State Sun Devils.

"[Last weekend] we thought was going to be a fresh start," Manager George Horton said. "First PAC-10 series and we laid an egg. Nothing really good about that except for to tell us how hard we have to work to get better."

With rival Washington (7-19, 0-3) coming to town this weekend, the Ducks are looking to get tuned in, specifically on offense, where they've struggled for most of the season.

"We need to remember what its like to win. Remember what its like to be good. Remember what it feels like to stay confident," junior second baseman Danny Pulfer said.

For the hitters, there may be no better time then now to step up. The Ducks bats rank worst in the conference in terms of batting average, and they rank eighth in total runs.

"One of my favorite quotes is a Lombardi quote that says ‘The real glory is getting knocked to your knees and coming back'" Horton said. "Well, we're on our knees right now and it's up to us to come back."

In what could amount to a perfect storm for the Ducks offense, they'll be facing a Huskies pitching staff that has posted less than impressive numbers all season. They have a team earned run average of over 5.00 and each of their starters has an ERA over 4.00. Their hitting isn't much better, with only two players (third baseman Jacob Lamb and outfielder Joe Meggs) batting over .300.

If the Ducks hoped for a perfect situation for a turnaround, the opportunity is presenting itself this weekend. The key, according to Horton, revolves around confidence.

"Confidence, the big C, that's the tough one," he said. "The team's not very confident, the coaches aren't very confident, we've got to fake it until we make it and that's the mission."

The return of freshman outfielder Stefan Sabol, who broke his hand in the Saint Mary's series, marks a positive for a team that has been bitten by the injury bug all season. Sabol returned to action in the opening game of the Arizona State series, batting 1-for-11 in three games.

"It was a little frustrating being on the bench for quite some time just watching everyone play. I just wanted to get out there and help my teammates," Sabol said. "My timing is a little off but that'll come with more reps and I'm confident we'll get the bats going and I'll get myself going too."

Horton said that the team has taken inspiration from the Butler Bulldogs basketball team that lost in the championship game of the NCAA Tournament on Monday night. He said the parallels between the Ducks offensive struggles and Butler's were very similar.

"My message to my team was that those athletes were trying hard, but it didn't work very well," he said.

The players have adapted to a "one day at a time" mantra that Bulldogs coach Brad Stevens instilled in his team, in hopes of turning this season around. Having faced a similar situation last year, many of the veterans are hopeful that they can repeat that success of making the program's first postseason appearance since reinstatement.

"We're going to have to take it one step at a time," Sabol said. "For example, today, taking it one day at a time and not worry about what we're doing on Friday or this weekend. We need to simplify it to today and do the best that we can."

Pulfer, who is currently on an 11 game hitting streak, said that the team is having trouble finding that spark that catapulted the Ducks to a lofty level last season.

"For us Omaha is a long way away," Pulfer said. "At this point it is so far off in the distance and not even a goal right now. I think we all need to step back because I think that image of ‘Oh yeah, we're going to Omaha this year' is everyone thinks its just going to happen and that's what we're waiting on and it'll just turn around. It's not happening so easily. So, we're going to have to tighten up the belt and figure out what's going on."

The Ducks experimented with line up changes in Arizona and expect to keep changing in hopes of finally finding consistency in the batting order. Junior shortstop KC Serna, normally the lead off man, was placed in the nine spot, moving sophomore catcher Jack Marder to the lead off spot.

"We've been going with KC. He's had some hiccups in his year this year and, he like others, have been struggling," Horton said.

Other Notes – Sophomore pitcher Christian Jones is battling a back injury according to Horton, and a timetable isn't set for his return. Junior Alex Keudell will start in his place until he returns.

Game 1 against Washington is Friday at 6:00 p.m.

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