Oregon Baseball: Desperate Ducks scrap to clinch series against Stanford

Kris Anderson, Addicted To Quack, Episode 6

The last time the Ducks had a chance to win a series at home, it was a freshman, Ryon Healy, who delivered at the plate and helped clintch the series against the Arizona Wildcats.

In the rubber match against the Stanford Cardinal (28-18, 10-11 Pac-10) on Sunday, four freshmen showed no stage fright in a win-or-go-home game for their postseason hopes.

At the plate, five of the Ducks' six runs batted in came from freshmen. In the field, freshman Aaron Jones saved the game with a throw to the plate to prevent the would-be tying run and allowing the Ducks to escape with a 6-5 win in a back-and-fourth game at PK Park in front of 1,960 fans.

"That was a must-need series and that was big for us," said Danny Pulfer, who has recorded multiple hits in five straight games. "They wanted it just as bad as we did. That was just nine innings of, ‘we want it as bad as possible,' and I think we got it."

The Oregon (26-24, 7-14 Pac-10) offense showed it can be brilliant at the plate for an entire series.

Healy, who hit his first career home run in that game against Arizona, cut the Stanford lead to one with his third home run of the year in the third inning.

The Ducks would comeback and take the lead in the fourth inning after a walk to J.J. Altobelli and a single by Pulfer put two runners aboard for freshman Brett Thomas, who crushed the offering from Cardinal starting pitcher Jordan Pries one-hopping the wall in left-center, which cleared the bases. The Ducks led 4-3

After Stanford rallied to tie the game in the fifth inning, the Ducks quickly answered back in the sixth.

After a lead off double by Altobelli, Pulfer moved him to third base with a single to right field. Following a walk to Thomas, which loaded the bases with no outs, Stefan Sabol, moved from left field to designated hitter after a tough day in the field on Saturday, hit a sacrifice fly to left field scoring Altobelli.

Not all was perfect for the Ducks as they still had a chance to extend their 5-4 lead.

After Healy drew a walk to load the bases with one out, Aaron Jones and Kyle Garlick would both strikeout looking to end the inning.

"Although we have made progress offensively, our toughest at-bat is bases loaded with one out or no outs right now," head coach George Horton said. "We just got to get over that fear of trying too hard."

Stanford would continue to pester the Oregon pitchers.

Struggling reliever Scott McGough entered the game in relief for Christian Jones in the seventh inning. With runners on the corners, a wild pitch by McGough would allow the runner to score from third and tie the game at five. However, McGough would earn the win after pitching 1 2/3 innings and not allowing an earned run.

Oregon's uncharacteristic heroics would shine once again in the bottom of the seventh inning.

With KC Serna on third base with two outs, Stanford intentionally walked Pulfer in order to face Thomas. Thomas would drive in his third run of the game and what would prove to be the game winning run for the Ducks with a single.

"It gives me a little bit of extra fire, but I'm as focused as I can be every time out there, and I just try to do my best no matter what," Thomas said of intentionally walking Pulfer to face him. "If they want to intentionally walk somebody, that's fine, but I'm going to try my best and do what I can do to help the team."

While it was one freshman that gave the Ducks the deciding run, it was another freshman who saved the game--this time in the field.

In the top of the eighth inning with two outs, a walk and a single had put runners on first and second. Kenny Diekroeger, who had struggled this series, singled to right field. Stanford's Dave Giuliani was waved home, but Jones' throw beat Giuliani to the plate as Brett Hambright tagged him out for the third out of the inning.

Madison Boer entered the game in the ninth to record his first save of the year and sealing the series for the Ducks.

"That's all around good baseball," said Christian Jones, who allowed only five runs (three earned) through 6 1/3 innings. "You can't expect it to be easy, or for them to roll over. Usually we're not really good at responding all that well. But today, we got right up, and we punched right back, and that's exactly what we need to keep doing."

With as skitsofrantic as the Ducks have been this year, it would have been easy to believe that they would be mentally absent following a tough loss on Saturday. But knowing they will be playing for next year with one more loss, Oregon played like a desperate team.

This is it for us," Pulfer said. "If we lost today, then I think finally the statistics would be, ‘OK, you guys are done.' But knocking off one of the top teams in the Pac-10, that gives us a shot. If we just keep winning games like this; keep winning series' then it's a flip of a coin to see who goes to regionals."

I believe that Oregon has finally woken up to the reality of two things. One: they still have a chance to reach the postseason. Two: their postseason hopes will end with one more loss. 

"I think we finally got guys believing that we’re not out of this yet," Pulfer said. "If we can beat a team like Stanford that’s as good as they are, then I think we got a very good shot. It shows us that we can still be a contender in the Pac-10 and that’s big for a team that’s fighting for our lives."

During the second game of the series when Oregon's bats shelled the Stanford pitching early, I was ready to say an undefeated run was possible. But that's before I saw and remembered that with Boer in the bullpen, Oregon's pitching looses a little security. It's pointless for me to predict whether the offense will stay hot--honestly, nobody knows--but I can say that the pitching will be the most critical aspect of the Ducks games. 

With Alex Keudell and Jones as the Ducks Saturday and Sunday starters, neither will provide the same lights out pitching that Boer does. On top of that, the pen showed on Saturday that it's hit-and-miss--even with Boer there.

Oregon will face the Gonzaga Bulldogs on Tuesday and Wednesday, and that will be a tough win. The Bulldogs are playing well this year. If the Ducks can take both of those games, I believe that can sweep a struggling Washington State team. Oregon is finally beating teams they should beat--that hasn't been the case for much of this year.

Oregon State will be the final hurdle. I'm going to reframe from making a prediction until that judgement day comes.

Notes

Second baseman Danny Pulfer was named Pac-10 player of the week. Congrats to Danny. Well deserved. I will have a feature story on Pulfer on  goducks.com by next week.

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