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Oregon baseball: Ducks must handle pressure of make-or-break series with USC

Kris Anderson- Addicted to Quack, Episode 1

Should the Ducks (16-14, 1-5 Pac-10) falter in this weekend's series against the USC Trojans (13-19, 4-5 Pac-10), that could put an end to their regional hopes.

I said in my last article that the Ducks can make things interesting in their remaining Pac-10 games--and they can--but every Pac-10 series from here on out will make-or-break the season. The mentality for the rest of the season must be one of do-or-die.

That is the type of pressure that would cripple many teams--and the Ducks haven't responded to pressure this season in the heroic way that many fans would like to see. This season the team has been like a group of boy scouts lost in the woods--and the more they panic, the more lost they become. It's not until they find the "magic bus" that the pressure subsides and they can go from feeling like the hunted to the hunters. When they don't care that they could become the dinner of bears or huskies, that is when this team is most dangerous.

"We had nothing to loose," said second baseman Danny Pulfer about his team's mentality entering the final game of last weekend's series against Washington. "We already lost the series. We might as well come out and swing it as much as we could, and we did."

Up until that game, players felt like the game was riding on each at-bat. A strikeout in the first inning with a runner in scoring position would still be on their mind during an at-bat in the ninth. In the field, guys would risk making the big play that could win the game rather than settling for the easy out. Example: Pitcher Scott McGough fielding a bunt and trying to throw the runner out at second instead of getting the sure thing at first. His throw pulled short stop KC Serna off the bag, and the Huskies would go on to score three runs in the tenth inning in Saturday's 3-0 defeat.

But on Sunday, they walked away with nine runs on 12 hits, and for the first time in the series, and they didn't get caught trying to overreach defensively, as they did in the first two games when eventual game-winning runs reached on errors.

Maybe all this team needs in an attitude adjustment. Unless this group peaked last year at the age of 18 and 19 and 20 the Ducks have the talent to compete with the rest of the conference. Don't forget, last year this team had guys like Pulfer who batted .300 with 38 RBI, and Serna who batted .348 with five home runs and 37 RBI, and J.J. Altobelli who batted .275 in 56 starts as a freshman.

The ability is there, they just need to take their eyes off the scoreboard. The Ducks have only won one game this year when trailing after the fifth inning. They're an example of a team that has viewed baseball as less of a game and more of a demanding job.

If nothing else, the rest of this season will be an interesting study of human psychology. Players attested after Sunday's game that they think they have finally found the attitude they need to play with. Pulfer said, "I hope this is the one where guys look back and go, ‘hey, getting beat at home against (Washington) really turned it around for us.'" 

Follow me on twitter @ I will be providing in-game tweets from the press box and updates about the team throughout the year. 

Series starters:

Friday, April 15

Oregon Ducks: LHP Tyler Anderson (4-1, 1.70)

USC Trojans: RHP Andrew Triggs (2-3, 5.48)

Saturday, April 16

Oregon Ducks: RHP Madison Boer (2-1, 1.87)

USC Trojans: RHP Austin Wood (2-5, 4.81) 

Sunday, April 17

Oregon Ducks: RHP Alex Keudell (4-3, 3.00)

USC Trojans: RHP Logan Odom (3-4, 3.06)