Ducks rally to beat Utah in series opener

Aaron Jones' big fifth inning propelled a sluggish Oregon Ducks squad over the Utah Utes (6-14, 2-2) 3-1 on Friday night at PK Park. The No. 24 ranked Ducks (14-5, 2-2) were aided by seven strong innings pitched by senior Alex Keudell, who picked up his second victory on the season.

Jones RBI triple with one out off of Utah right-hander Jeff Pond (2-3) scored shortstop J.J. Altobelli, and awoke a lifeless offense from its slumber against a Utes pitching staff that had yielded a conference high 4.63 earned run average entering the game. First baseman Ryon Healy knocked in Jones with a RBI ground out to give the Ducks a lead they would not relinquish.

"I finally found a gap and I think that opened up the floodgates for us," Jones said.

Healy added an insurance run in the seventh with a two out RBI single to score second baseman Aaron Payne.

Keudell seemed destined for a long night after he gave up a leadoff home run to Utes shortstop James Brooks to start the game and proceeded to get pounded for the better part of the next two innings. But, thanks to a couple of successful pickoffs, Keudell managed to work through jams without any further damage done on the scoreboard.

"They made some good swings on some balls and got out in front," said Keudell. "I fooled them a bit but they still got some base hits."

By the fifth inning, Keudell (2-3) had finally settled down and found a groove by striking out the side with relative ease. He allowed only one hit past the second inning and retired nine of the last ten batters he faced on the night. He finished after seven innings, giving up one run on five hits, with one walk and four strikeouts.

"He was throwing too well for us not to get one for him," Jones, who finished 2-for-2, said. "He's thrown great games in the past and we've gotten losses for him and we weren't going to do it again."

Jimmie Sherfy worked the final two outs of the ballgame after taking over for reliever Jeff Gold. Altobelli's diving snag and throw at shortstop to get Jo Jo Sharrar at first base sealed up Sherfy's third save of the year, and another spectacular night defensively for the junior.

Horton admitted that the team is still trying to find their identity offensively after struggling following a hot start to the season. The Ducks came into the contest batting .159 in conference play with only six runs scored. In a conference full of ranked opponents with deep rosters, the production will have to emerge soon if the Ducks hope to make a run as Horton had hoped following the conclusion of non-conference play two weeks ago.

Oregon certainly didn't help themselves early on in the first inning, following three straight singles that yielded no runs due to base running errors. Altobelli was tagged out racing for home while trying to catch the Utes defense off guard following a bunt single and Payne was caught stealing third base moments before a Jones single.

"It's never good to play backwards or uphill," Horton said. "Hopefully we can get it going tomorrow, start building on that, and put seven or eight games together where we are taking quality at-bats."

A postgame meeting between the assistant coaches and the team may be the start of that process. Jones said the meeting addressed the Ducks complacency with leads and making sure the team's mentality stays focused throughout the ballgame.

"Every once in a while we get a little mentality slip." Jones said, adding later, "We've got to get that out of our systems."

The Ducks and Utes face off again at 2 p.m. on Saturday.

GAME NOTES –

Attendance was 1,192 at PK Park.

A total of six base runners were picked off during the game, three from each team.

Jones also picked up his fourth steal of the season.

The Ducks left 10 men on base.


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