The conditions for the three-game series with the Arizona State Sun Devils at PK Park March 31 and April 1 were obviously not to the Sun Devils liking–far from it. You could tell by their use of ski masks. With weather only a duck could appreciate, the Oregon Ducks, a team under Coach George Horton noted for “small ball,” ended up using the long ball to sweep Saturday’s doubleheader with scores of 1-0 and 3-1, and then held on to win the finale 4-3 on Sunday.
Aaron Jones’s solo homer was all the offense needed in the first game as senior pitcher Alex Keudell stymied the Sun Devils bats with a four-hit shutout. Kyle Garlick’s two solo dingers in the second game of the twin bill was enough as freshman pitcher Jake Reed followed Keudell’s lead by hurling shut out ball for 7 1/3 innings and picking up the win. Closer Jimmy Sherfy got the save despite allowing a solo homer in the ninth inning. Sunday’s game looked like more of the same as the Ducks broke out with a 3-0 lead and headed into the 9th with Jimmy Sherfy on the mound again with a 4-1 advantage. This time Sherfy’s outing was suspenseful as he surrendered three straight hits, two runs, but with the bases loaded he struck out ASU’s Nathaniel Causey to end the game and record his sixth save of the season.
Since the U of O reinstated baseball four years ago, the Ducks had been 2-11 against the historically strong Sun Devil baseball team. Even though it was apparent ASU was not enjoying the cold and sometimes wet conditions in Eugene, Oregon deserves a lot of credit for turning around a three-game losing streak coming in to this pivotal series.
The long ball was the Ducks’ demise in the last game of the Utah series and two mid week games on the road against Texas State. Coach Horton admitted that he and his team were not mentally prepared to play their best in Texas, so it was critically important for the Ducks to right the ship quickly if they wanted to stay in contention in the Pac-12 conference.
The sweep of ASU exceeded expectations and puts the Ducks, at 6-3 in conference play, in a good position even though they know there are bigger challenges ahead with away games coming up against UCLA and Stanford. What will it take for Oregon to stay in the race as they embark on two straight road trips?
To sum up: Play much better small ball. It is highly unlikely that home runs are going to be the main source of scoring runs as they move forward. The Ducks still need to consistently manufacture runs to support what has been solid pitching and exceptional defense. JJ Altobelli at shortstop, Aaron Payne at second base and Brett Thomas in left field can be singled out as making spectacular plays in the field that helped beat ASU.
The offense must improve on these
“small ball” essentials:
1) Bunting. The sacrifice bunts have been mediocre and sporadic in their aim to move a runner on first with no outs to second.
2) Punch outs. Duck hitters are letting way too many at bats being decided by the home plate umpire ringing them up for “strike three”. Whatever happened to “two strikes–anything close”? Be ready to swing the bat and put the baseball in play!
3) Intelligent hitting. It is my opinion that unless you are hitting in the three, four, five or six spot and have proven that you can hit with power, you should NOT be popping the ball up or flying out. Find a way to hit the ball on the ground if you don’t hit a line drive, and then you at least have a chance of the defense making an error or possibly beating out an infield hit.
4) Smart base running. It’s good to be aggressive, but not to the point of running your team out of rallies. Example: Trying to steal third with two outs…not good to take the bat and a potential RBI out of your teammates hands. Also, it’s just not ever good to get picked off a base–it’s just not worth that extra step. The good news is Duck pitchers have been great at picking off the opposition this year.
In order for Oregon to build on the success of this past weekend they will need to take their game to the another level on offense by executing all the fundamentals that Coach Horton emphasizes and that the team practices so much. If they can continue to get good outings from their starting pitching–Keudell, Reed and Brando Tessar–then wins can be earned in this very tough Pac-12 league.