The Oregon Ducks picked up in the first inning from where they had left off the night before. However, the Ducks soon regressed back to old ways, and even behind the first complete game of Madison Boer’s Oregon career, the smallest mistakes proved costly.
After tying the game in the fifth inning, a home run by Arizona Wildcats left fielder Johnny Field to lead off the seventh would prove to be the deciding run as the Wildcats (24-14, 6-8 Pac-10) evened the series by the score of 2-1 on Friday night at PK Park.
For the second night in a row, it was the Oregon bats that overshadowed tremendous performances from their starting pitchers. But tonight, the reason was not as joyous.
Entering the night on a three-game winning streak, the bats seemed to be progressing with every game. Manufacturing runs was still an issue, but the Ducks (20-17, 3-8 Pac-10) were finding ways to reach base—including earning 11 hits against the Wildcats ace, Kurt Heyer.
On this night, the Ducks would only reach base three times on three hits and looked to be overly aggressive at the plate.Second baseman Danny Pulfer earned two of the Ducks hits on the night—both times reaching on singles. However, he believed it was his single to leadoff the game that created a wrong attitude throughout the rest of the lineup.
"I don’t think I’ll ever be doing that again, because it looked like some of the guys thought it would be easy to go up there and swing at the first pitch and get a hit," Pulfer said about swinging early in the count to leadoff the game. "I guess that was a bad example on my part. (I) got to do a better job of taking more pitches and setting the tone as a lead off hitter. I’m sure I’ll learn from that and move on."
Pulfer’s single in the first inning resulted in a run for the Ducks. Center fielder Brett Thomas followed Pulfer with a single of his own, while Pulfer used some aggressive base running to reach third on the hit. Stefan Sabol was next at the plate and earned an RBI by scoring Pulfer on a fielder’s choice.
Following the first inning, the Ducks only other hit of the game would be a bunt single by Pulfer in the sixth inning that came with two outs.
Starting on the hill for the Wildcats was junior Kyle Simon, who finished the night by pitching nine strong innings, striking out five and not walking a batter. He was deceptive all night as he used his slider to induce many ground balls. By night’s end, Simon had only thrown 94 pitches—exhibit A for what Pulfer was talking about.
Boer matched Simon throughout the night, with the only exception being the home run. Boer stayed efficient with his pitches, while throwing first pitch strikes to the vast majority of hitters he faced. He knew in his pre-game bullpen session that he had his good stuff on this night.
"Feeling really good," he said of how he felt before the game. "I pounded the inside half of the plate and it really helped. A lot of their guys are right on top of the plate and that’s when you have to go in. I got a lot of balls off the handle."
Of the 27 outs he recorded, only five were on fly balls—three of those came in the ninth inning alone.
This was Boer’s second start in a row at home where he pitched nine innings but failed to earn the win. Against the Washington Huskies, Boer went nine, but the game went to extras and the Ducks lost the game in the tenth.
"It seems that every time (Boer) gives us a good start, we give him no offense," Pulfer said. "As a position player, I feel bad for the guy."
Pulfer described the Ducks offense reverting back to its typical form as "immaturity." Following the first game of the series, Oregon knew that they had gotten the best of one of the top pitchers in the country. Pulfer said that with the team knowing that, they believed they would be able to repeat the performance.
"I think just knowing that (Kurt Heyer) is good, we’re going up there with nothing to loose. And then we’re thinking, ‘oh, we got that guy beat, we can just show up and do the same thing.’ It’s not going to work that way," he said.
The Ducks will look to win their first Pac-10 series of the year on Saturday. For the Ducks, they believe that any postseason hopes come down to tomorrows result.
"It’s probably the biggest game of the year right now," Pulfer said. "This is Omaha for us tomorrow. In my opinion, it’s Omaha for me. You can't think about, ‘oh yea, were going to turn it on.’ Arizona is ranked, and we’re showing up like we don’t want to play against them… I think tomorrow is a very, very important day for us. We need a series win. It’s a must."
The Ducks will enter that must-win game behind the arm of Alex Keudell, who sports a 4-3 record with a 2.78 ERA.
Now the Ducks season could come down to one game in late April. For a team that has sullied their national reputation this season, a win Saturday over the No. 23 team in the nation would provide one of few bright spots to the 2011 season. Now, the team that time and time again has been overcome by the pressure, will take the field knowing their season hangs in the balance.