"We love it," said Brett Thomas of playing four games in four days. "We would much rather being playing ball than doing anything else. We take it as a challenge. I think tonight we accepted that challenge and did a great job with it."
If the Ducks were still a little groggy through the first three innings, they appeared fully alert in fourth, when they almost broke the PK Park record for most runs scored in an inning. After a Thomas fly out, the Matadors failed to retire the next six batters, five of which scored.
But none of the fourth inning heroics matched what Thomas had in store to start the fifth. The left fielder hit a line drive off of relief pitcher Louis Cohen's back, leaving catcher Alexis Mercado to retrieve the ball. Mercado's throw to first was wild and Thomas was able to stretch the would-be-single into a run.
"I think we've been building some momentum," Thomas said. "We've been swinging it really well and hitting it at people. I thought Saturday we hit the ball really well, just right at people. Yesterday we showed up and did that and today we did the same. The best thing is that when we don't hit well, we can still win with our pitching, defense and offense."
Oregon put the ball in the hand of freshman Cole Wiper, who made his first appearance on the mound since a blow up in Hawaii, where the righty gave up two runs without an out. It appeared things might be headed in the same direction, after the Matador's three-hitter Miles Williams drove a Wiper pitch over to left field wall, scoring two runs, in the top of the first.
But Wiper appeared to settle in, allowing no hits following the first, before being replaced by Brando Tessar in the fourth.
It might have been a surprise to find Wiper on the mound, as Horton had originally planned to go with lefty Christian Jones. But Jones, who had Tommy John surgery a year ago, was still sore after Tuesday's start versus Portland.
"He's got a little tightness, so we want to be careful with him," Horton said. "He doesn't feel totally 100 percent... I'm not sure when the next time we'll see him on the mound again. He's day-to-day. I'm going to use Chip's thing."
With the Ducks leading by four, relief pitcher Darrell Hunter allowed runners to reach first and second with just one out to open both the seventh and eighth inning. Hunter was able to get out of the jam in the seventh, forcing a liner to second and striking out Nate Ring.
In the eighth, Hunter was not as fortunate. Short stop Kyle Attl brought a run in on a single. Hunter then walked the next batter to load the bases for the power hitting Williams.
After two balls to Williams, head coach George Horton elected to hand the ball off to Jimmie Sherfy in an attempt to get out of the jam. Sherfy threw three straight strikes, the first two of which were called strikes. The calls so incensed Williams that the left fielder was tossed after swinging third strike.
"Yeah, usually he loads the bases, not unloads them. I think that's the best way to say that," Horton joked.
Sherfy has gotten off to a bit of a rocky start since his breakout sophomore season. Sherfy attributed that to a lack of confidence in his pitches. After meeting with renowned sports psychologist Ken Ravizza in Fullerton, where Ravizza works for the Los Angles Angels, Sherfy's outlook is clearer.
"I'm just in a totally different mental state. All of my outings this year I was just so tentative to throw my pitches," he said. "If I threw maybe four days ago, definitely, I'd be tentative, but no, not tonight."
Hoping to avoid a similar situation in the ninth, Oregon scored five insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth. After putting runners on second and third, the Matadors elected to intentionally walk Hambright to pitch to Healy. Healy made them pay driving a low pitch past the third baseman to empty the bases. Then Steven Packard tripled to score two more.
"I was excited with the opportunity," Healy said. "I was just happy I was able to come through and help the team out."
Oregon's twelve runs were the most by the Ducks this season, eclipsing Sunday's effort of nine.
The Ducks and Matadors meet for a noon start Tuesday at PK Park.