Oregon’s remarkable baseball season (30-13 overall and 14-7 in conference), continues at this writing with a three-game sweep of the California Bears, April 27-29at PK Park.
The Ducks had come off of a two-to-one home series loss to WSU the week before, and a Tuesday night 7-1 drubbing by the Beavers. That three-game losing streak, along with some injuries to key starting players, had cast a bit of a cloudy forecast on Oregon’s fortunes going into a pivotal series with Cal.
But, as often has been the case this year, the Friday night starter, Alex Keudell, got the team back on track with another great pitching performance. The return of Aaron Jones in the batting lineup also appeared to spark the offense.
In the first game with the Bears, the Ducks came away with a 4-1 victory, with Jones knocking in one run with a single in the third and two more with a double in the 8th. Jones was only able to DH as he is still recovering from an ankle strain. Starting shortstop J.J. Altobelli is hoping to return to the lineup when his right shoulder has healed enough that he can make the throws from that position, and third day pitcher Brando Tessar is still “day to day”. Jeff Gold filled in admiraly for Tessar by allowing only one run in seven innings to secure the sweep of Cal.
The second game of the series with Cal saw a new attendance record of 3,892 at PK Park directly related to the Oregon football team’s Spring Game that was held earlier in the day. Brett Thomas led the way with three doubles in a 3-2 victory, with freshman pitcher Jake Reed picking up his fifth win of the season.
Coach Horton explained to the press after the Cal sweep that, despite the two losses to WSU a week earlier, he felt the team battled all the way and just got outplayed by a pretty talented Cougar team. The way they lost to OSU was very disappointing in an unexplained lack of focus and intensity. The return to playing well in each game against Cal was very satisfying for the Oregon coaching staff. Horton credited Coach Dean Stiles with doing a great job in helping Horton with the pitching staff after the departure of Andrew Checketts this year.
Looking ahead, Oregon has a two-game road trip at Gonzaga during the week and then another big series in Tucson with Arizona, which could determine who will end up as the Pac-12 champion. Horton explained that you just can’t let up against any team in the conference this year, and have to play your best every game in every series.
A reason for optimism is the Ducks are getting consistent offensive production from Aaron Payne, Aaron Jones, Ryon Healy, Brett Thomas and Kyle Garlick. Each game, one or several of these hitters are driving in runs or getting clutch hits. Freshman Thomas Walker has also looked good at the plate while also filling in well defensively at third base as has Kevin Shephard for Altobelli at shortstop. Speaking of clutch hitting, Garlick leads the team with 13 two-out RBIs.
If the bats stay hot, and the pitching and defense that have kept the Ducks close in nearly every game, the sky is the limit as we head down the home stretch of the 2012 season.