Ducks fall flat against the Pilots

Heading into a conference weekend series with No. 20 California, the Oregon Ducks (21-18) had a preliminary test against in-state rival Portland (15-23) on Wednesday night. By all accounts, the Ducks failed the test, falling in a flat fashion of 4-2 at PK Park.

The Pilots broke a 2-2 tie in the eighth inning when shortstop Matt Mardesich doubled down the left field line off of Ducks reliever Christian Jones to score left fielder Turner Gill from first base. Third baseman Riley Henricks followed that with an RBI single to score Mardesich, who went 3-for-4 with two doubles.

Portland only needed five hits to score their four runs.

"When you're not locked in against those guys you're going to come up empty and shame on us for doing that," Manager George Horton said.

Pilots starter Kyle Kraus pitched eight innings and, outside of two extra base hits, made the Ducks offense look anemic.

"We weren't as tough as outs as we needed to be off that kind of a guy," Horton said. "He didn't give us anything, he made us earn everything and did a nice job."

Kraus gave up six hits and two runs, walking one and striking out two to earn his third win of the year and his first since Mar. 1, which also came against the Ducks at PK Park. In the eighth inning, he got Ducks second baseman Danny Pulfer to ground into a 4-6-3 double play following a J.J. Altobelli single that essentially put the nail in their coffin.

Reliever Chris Dennis sent the Ducks down in order in the ninth for his seventh save of the year. Jones took the loss, only his second of the year.

The Ducks had just come off of a stretch where they won 7-out-of-10 games in a 13-day stretch, with one of those wins coming from a 14-3 shellacking of Portland last Tuesday. Wednesday's performance seemed to baffle many in the dugout.

"Guess we deserved that one," Pulfer said. "I don't think we were mentally prepared for this game and I think we took it lightly like we always do against these guys."

"I thought we practiced really well yesterday and today, for some reason, I didn't think we really had the focus or the competitiveness," Horton said. "I don't know why but I think the team with the best attitude won the game."

At one point Oregon seemed to be in the game. Down 2-1 in the seventh, the Ducks got another clutch at bat from shortstop KC Serna. With two outs, the junior hit a solo home run into the Pilots bullpen, seemingly shifting the momentum in the Ducks favor. They didn't count on the Pilots responding.

"They did what every good team does, they punched back and punched us right in the mouth and we didn't get off the ground," Pulfer said.

The Ducks lone bright spot was starter Porter Clayton. Making his first start in a Ducks uniform, the freshman left-hander retired the first 12 batters he faced before giving up a single to Mardesich in the top of the fourth inning. He gave up just one hit and was tagged for an earned run, walking two and striking out four in a no-decision.

"Porter was spectacular," Horton said. "He kind of ran out of gas there and I think [Coach Checketts] got him at just at the right time."

Clayton was relieved with one out in the sixth by redshirt-freshman right-hander Jeff Gold, after walking Pilots center fielder Craig Smith to start the inning. Facing second baseman Kevin Armijo, Gold left his curveball hanging and Armijo, with a little help form the wind, skied a home run just over the left field fence to give Portland a 2-0 lead.

"What I didn't like is that we walked a leadoff hitter in the sixth and seventh – [Christian Jones] walked his first guy – and it kind of set the table for them and they took advantage of it," Horton said.

The Ducks responded in the bottom half of the inning thanks to a leadoff double by Pulfer. After freshman center fielder Brett Thomas sacrificed him over to third base on a bunt, the junior scored on freshman left fielder Stefan Sabol's groundout to cut the Pilots lead in half.

Now the Ducks head to California, a program that was on the brink of extinction until recently, and know that they have to take the series.

"Right now, PAC-10 wins are really big. That's all we can focus on, I guess," said Pulfer.

GAME NOTES:

Attendance at PK Park was 1380.

In injury news senior outfielder Marcus Piazzisi will be traveling with the team as part of the 27-man roster headed to Berkeley. He's been out with a broken hand since Mar. 12 but has seen time as a pinch runner recently.

Sophomore catcher Jack Marder sat out tonight's game with an undisclosed injury to his leg. Horton hopes to have him back in time for Friday's game.

Redshirt-sophomore Joey Housey will have his right arm looked at tomorrow before a decision is made on when he returns to action. Housey was removed from last Tuesday's game against Portland after feeling discomfort in his throwing arm.


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