The Oregon offense didn't have anywhere to go but up. But there wasn't a soul--players and coaches included--that thought this recent surge was possible.
The Ducks hitters, recently, have taken turns getting their punches in on opposing starters--this time at the expense of Gonzaga's Aaron Brooks. He lasted only five innings and surrendered five runs, as the Ducks finished off the two game sweep of the Bulldogs by a score of 8-0 on Wednesday at PK Park. With Alex Keudell making an unusual weekday start, the Ducks shutout the Bulldogs for a second game in a row, and outscored them 13-0 in the series.
Oregon's uncharacteristic surge of offense got for the Ducks (28-24-1) out to an early lead.
Danny Pulfer-starting in spite of a hard injury that occurred in Tuesday night's game-led the game off with a single. After being sacrificed to second and then stealing third, Ryon Healy scored Pulfer on a ground out to third.
The Ducks would add one more run in the first inning, as a single by Aaron Jones scored Stefan Sabol, who walked earlier in the inning, from second giving the Ducks a 2-0 lead.
"It's confidence," coach George Horton said of his team's new found ability to score runs. "I think it's a subtle thing and its been growing over the last three weeks. It's something that will hopefully take a little pressure off of our pitching staff, especially the bullpen."The Ducks would take advantage of Brooks, again, in the third inning.
After a leadoff single by Brett Thomas, Healy, who went 2-for-4, drove in Thomas with a double to record the second of his two runs batted in on the day. Jones, who went 3-for-5, drove in Healy on a base hit to record his second run batted in.
One day after freshman Brando Tessar held the Zag's scoreless through his six innings pitched, Keudell did the same through 7 1/3 innings. Making the start on only three days rest, Keudell allowed six hits and struck out four on the way to the win, which improved his record to 6-3.
"Towards the end, like the fifth, sixth, seventh and the eighth, I was getting tired," he said. "I just tried to battle through it and get a win for my team."
Scott McGough, in his first appearance since Sunday where he allowed no runs through 1 2/3 innings, matched that on Wednesday.
Madison Boer was moved from Saturday starter to the roll of closer to relieve the struggling McGough and the rest of the bullpen. If McGough can get back to shades of what he was suppose to be, that would circumvent what is now the Ducks' greatest weakness.
With the win, Oregon has won five of their last seven games (one loss and one tie), and has averaged 7.4 runs and 10.7 hits a game during that stretch. What is most surprising is that with seven games left in the year, the Ducks are still clinging to postseason hopes.
Following a sweep two weeks ago at the hands of the UCLA Bruins, Horton's comments about his team didn't render much to be optimistic about.
"I guess if there is a complaint about my team, it's that we don't handle difficult things very well-being behind, umpires calls, the at bat that's real important," he said. "Is that because they're bad kids? No, but they're not mentally tough enough."
Those words were a lot different than his words following Sunday's series clinching win against the Stanford Cardinal.
"The mentality to win a close game, to keep punching back, to answer back; it's something that we haven't done and that's why I'm so excited," he said.
Oregon would have to run the table in order to have a chance of qualifying for regionals.
Busting out of a collective slump can be traced back to that series against the Bruins, which was, seemingly, the turning point of the season.
Following the third game of that series, the Ducks had a clearing of the air in the locker room.
"Guys jumped on one another-not pointing fingers. I think we got rid of that aspect," Pulfer said of a growing resentment between pitchers and position players. "I think we're back to one team, one goal. Some guys didn't understand what was irritating other guys. We got that out in the open."
Now the Ducks are playing with a different purpose.
"We've committed to preparing for each game like it's the first game of the season, and playing each game like it's our last game of the season," Pulfer said. "I think that's key, because we've been taking the mentality of, ‘oh, we'll get them tomorrow.' Then tomorrow comes and we don't get them. I think it's, ‘how would you want to end the season. Would you want to end it with a loss, or would you want to end it with a win.'"
The Ducks are hoping to finish the season by winning their final seven games. It will start this weekend against Washington State, which is second to last in the Pac-10. Oregon's offense should have no problems with staying explosive, as Washington State-statistically-is one of the worst pitching teams in the conference.
The fat lady is warming up her vocals, but the Ducks haven't given her the cue to sing.