EUGENE, Ore—Desperation mode. It’s a scary state to be in for teams with high expectations coming into a season. Entering Saturday’s second game against Utah (5-11) that’s exactly where the Ducks (8-6) were headed. On the heels of four consecutive losses and their strong 8-2 start on the verge of being erased, Oregon starter Matt Krook took the mound to try and right his club’s ship as well as his own. Krook only threw two-thirds of an inning in his start last week against Mississippi State in which he gave up two hits, walked five batters and allowed five earned runs. But sometimes desperation can be a good thing; if you get backed into a corner all you can do is come out swinging, and in baseball swinging is a big part of the game.
Krook looked strong in his first inning collecting two strikeouts and pitching very efficiently. The Ducks bats showed some life early in their first two at-bats, Austin Grebeck singled on a two-strike count and Kyle Kasser doubled him in with a shot down the left field line to give Krook a lead to pitch with—Which he hasn’t worked with for much of this year. After the brief burst, the Ducks next three batters went down in order to allow Utah starter, Dalton Carroll, to minimize the damage.
The Ducks looked like they were in a position to extend the lead early in the bottom of the third. Kyle Kasser singled up the middle on the first pitch of his at-bat and A.J. Balta followed him up with a walk to put runners on first and second with one out. But Kasser was thrown out at third on a questionable double steal call and Tim Susnara grounded out to second to end the scoring threat. When asked about the call after the game George Horton replied, “He got the steal sign, but the rule is you’re not supposed to go unless you get a jump and that was an awful jump.” “That’s how coaches get fired,” Horton finished with a playful wink.
Utah got on the board in the top of the fourth after Krook walked right fielder Andre Jackson, who was leading off the inning, and Tim Susnara air-mailed a back door pick attempt into right field allowing Jackson to advance all the way to third. Utes third baseman Dallas Carroll grounded out to deep short allowing Jackson in to score and tying the game at 1-1. Krook looked visibly frustrated by the error and labored through the rest of the inning allowing an infield single, a walk and another single to allow the Utes to take a 2-1 lead.
Oregon mounted a threat in the bottom of the fourth when Matt Kroon and Jake Bennett singled back to back. After Bennett’s single there were runners on first and third with one out. Utah starter Dalton Carroll attempted several third to first fake pickoff moves to keep the runner honest but his third attempt resulted in a balk and allowed Kroon to come in from third to tie the game at 2-2.
The frustrating tone of the series continued as the Utes led off the fifth with an infield single that took a high bounce over Krook’s head and allowed Utes center fielder Dashawn Keirsey Jr. to reach first and Kody Davis followed that up with a sac bunt that was perfectly placed down the third base line that allowed him to reach first safely. Andre Jackson came to the plate again and drove a first-pitch single to left field just under Matt Kroon’s glove to allow Keirsey Jr. to score and taking the lead back for the Utes 3-2 with no outs recorded yet. George Horton ended Krook’s day in an attempt to limit the damage; Isaiah Carranza came in for Krook and Utah added two more runs—which Krook was responsible for—on a single and a double to build the lead to 5-2 before the inning came to a close. “Those five runs weren’t necessarily all earned,” Coach Horton said, “They hit I think one ball hard… it was a fortunate inning [for Utah], a dinker here and a dinker there… and we had every reason to go, oh no here we go again.”
Austin Grebeck who had already extended his on base streak in his first at-bat of the game tripled to lead off the Ducks’ half of the inning to give some life to the Ducks and to the crowd in attendance at PK Park. “It was time to battle, Grebeck said after the game, “we could roll over and die or we could make the choice to battle back and be tough and fight.” Kyle Kasser then singled for his third hit in as many at-bats and collected his second RBI of the afternoon to cut into the Utes lead 5-3. “I was just looking for a fastball. Yesterday we were swinging through a lot of changeups, so I was looking for a fastball and I got a few of them,” Kasser said about his fifth inning at-bat. Grebeck commented on Kasser’s performance after the game, “Fantastic, he gets a start, he comes out, gets a start and takes advantage of it. That’s what you gotta do.”
Tim Susnara walked to put runners at first and second with one out and brought Steven Packard to the plate. Packard roped a ground ball into the hole between first and second scoring Kasser from second to make the score 5-4. Two batters later Jake Bennett got aboard on a fielders choice to second but Utes shortstop Ellis Kelly couldn’t get his foot on the bag and Packard was safe at second on his slide. With the play still on after the safe call at second, Tim Susnara ran all the way home with the majority of the Utes players running out to second to contest the call made by second base umpire Patrick Riley. Susnara’s sharp base running knotted the game up at 5-5 with Travis Moniot coming to the plate.
Moniot who has been struggling so far in his limited amount of PK Park at-bats got his second hit of the game and knocked in the lead run making it 6-5 Ducks. The inning ended two batters later after Phil Craig-St. Louis walked in his pinch hit at bat for Daniel Patzlaff and Austin Grebeck struck out in his second at-bat of the inning.
After gaining the lead back Isaiah Carranza went to work and put the Utes down in order through the next two innings with a combination of ground and fly outs.
The Ducks bats weren’t done though and added three more runs in the seventh courtesy of Austin Grebeck and A.J. Balta. The Ducks left fielder had been hitting the ball hard all series but had yet to find a hole in the Utes defense knocked a single through passed second base and scored two runs in a bases-loaded situation to put the Ducks up 9-5.
Freshmen Matt Mercer who has been acting as the Ducks set up man came in to pitch the final two innings for Oregon and set down all but one Utes batter—pinch hitter Kellen Marruffo walked on a full count at bat—to stop the Ducks losing streak at four and getting Oregon back in the win column for the first time in two weeks.
Oregon returns to PK tomorrow at 12 noon for the rubber match with the Utes, where David Peterson will take on Josh Lapiana.
Photo Credit: Dylan Vibes