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Oregon Baseball: Late-inning heroics come from... KC Serna?

Kris Anderson, Addicted To Quack, Episode 3

Who would have thought that a defensive replacement move would have been so pivotal? But for the Oregon Ducks (20-16, 3-7 Pac-10), it was the best move they could have made.

The struggling KC Serna--not in the starting lineup for the third game in a row--entered the game in the top of the seventh to take over at shortstop. Then, like only the baseball gods would have it, Serna and his slumping bat found himself at the plate in the games most crucial situation.

With two outs and two runners on base in the bottom of the eighth inning, head coach Geroge Horton had a feeling this would be Serna's moment as he decided to let him hit.

The decidion would pay off as Serna--on the eighth pitch of the at-bat--drove the pitch past the diving Arizona Wildcats (23-14, 5-8 Pac-10) second baseman scoring the eventual game winning run from second. The Ducks would escape with a 4-2 upset of the No. 23 team in the nation on Thursday night at PK Park.

Believe it or not, it was Serna's pre-game batting practice that earned the faith of Horton.

"KC (Serna) worked real hard in batting practice and had one of his most spectacular batting practices I've seen from him in a long time. Maybe that can get him on track this year," Horton said of his junior shortstop. "I thought the game would reward KC. I thought that was a spot he deserved to have. I felt good about him."

Serna's disappointing season has been marked by a .210 batting average and a tough year defensively, which has recently moved him from starter to the bench. Even with all that, he still thought he could be the hero.

"I'm going to get it done," Serna said of his mindset entering the at-bat. "It's the spot we all want to be in. We forget to have fun sometimes. I think we're all just working on having a good time and having fun out there.

"I was pretty confident going into it. It was two strikes so I was just trying to battle. I was just fortunate enough to get a good swing on it; barreled it up and got it through (the infield)."

Lost in the late-game heroics was the lights-out performance from Tyler Anderson.

Facing one of the most dangerous offensive teams in the Pac-10--if not the nation--Anderson was in familiar form. He went the distance for the first time this season while striking out nine, scattering three hits and allowing only two earned runs.

Anderson came two outs short of earning his first complete game last weekend against USC, so this time he was determined to finish the job.

"Last weekend at USC, I got through eight-and-a-third; wasn't able to finish the last two outs," he said. "So I wanted to make sure that didn't happen this time."

Between his fastball, which he worked at around 90 MPH all night and his knee-breaking curveball, Anderson had the destructive Wildcats lineup off-balance throughout the night. As the game went on, Anderson only seemed to get better. The only rough inning for Anderson came in the fourth when he allowed two runs on a hit and a walk. Facing a club that is batting .331 as a team, Anderson seemed to be on cruise control. Six of the Wildcats starters are batting over .300, while the first two hitters in the order are batting above .400 on the season. But Anderson said the key to his performance was getting ahead of hitters early.

"I think really just throwing strikes," Anderson said about the strategy facing the Arizona lineup. "If you don't give them free bases and throw it over the place. I just tried to get ahead all night.

"Curveballs, I did throw those and that felt good and I felt like I had pretty good command with that."

Following Oregon's last win at home about two weeks ago against the Washington Huskies, Horton said that it would take a come-from-behind win to spark the team and possibly turn the season around. The Ducks have now captured that style of victory and hope to ride the momentum from the three-game winning streak they are currently on. Players say that their relaxed, grind games out frame of mind has been the difference in the teams recent performance.

Call me a pessimist, but I still find reasons to doubt a team that has underperformed to the extent that they have.

First, while Serna's at-bat was a much-needed moment in his otherwise forgetful season, it came off relief pitcher Bryce Banadilla, who has an ERA of 4.73 this season. Banadilla entered the game and subsequently hit Jack Marder on a 3-2 pitch (he threw a breaking ball that bounced four feet in front of Marder before hitting him). He went down 2-0 on Serna, and by then everyone at PK Park had to know that Serna was going to see nothing but fastballs. The six pitches that followed were all fastballs outside--Serna knew a fastball outside was coming after talking with Marder before the at-bat--and he did what he should have in that situation. If I knew what was coming, then so did Horton. So it will be interesting to see if that at-bat wins back Serna's stating spot in the lineup.

Second, the Ducks out-hit the Wildcats 11 to three. They also left ten runners on base. The Ducks also stranded five runners in scoring position. Opportunities were there throughout the game to end this one earlier than they did. Oregon hitters are still not delivering in many key situations. They can't hope to win every game like this. Granted, they were facing one of the best pitchers in the country in Kurt Heyer, who is 6-2 with a 1.91 ERA and a ridiculous strikeout-to-walk ratio. That is why I'm itching to see how the Ducks come out and play in game two of the series. Madison Boer will be making his first start since his rough outing against USC last weekend. He'll need better stuff than he lad last weekend as this game against Arizona will probably be the toughest opponent he's faced this year.