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Duck bats explode as Oregon takes season opening series over Hawaii 3-1

Oregon baseball faces many questions headed into the season. Last year, the Ducks had one of the elite pitching staffs in the nation, but a lineup that couldn't put runs across the board. The result was a team that significantly underperformed expectations. Coming into this season, expectations are muted, as questions about the bats remain, and an already largely gutted pitching staff has already lost three to Tommy John surgery.

One series does not answer all the questions about this team going into the season, but going into the Islands and taking three of four from the Rainbows, especially with the way the bats performed, is a big reason to be optimistic about this team.

Game One: Hawaii 4, Oregon 1

The one game of the series that I listened to was incredibly frustrating. Oregon couldn't get anything going against Hawaii starter Matt Sisto, who has now beaten Oregon three years in a row. Sisto pitched seven innings, giving up only two hits and striking out five. Meanwhile, Oregon starter Alex Keudell, on a pitch count to start the season, went only four innings, but gave up a run on a couple of errors. Freshman Jordan Specer came in and promptly gave up three more in a bit over an inning.

Oregon did have one chance against Sisto, getting runners at first and second with no outs in the fouth with their best hitter, Ryon Healy, coming up to bat. With the Ducks down 1-0 at the time, Horton make an unquestionably bad move, using Healy to bunt the runners over, not only giving up an out, but taking the bat out of the hands of Oregon's best hitter. I'll have a piece on bunting up later this week, but its almost never a good idea, and my one criticism of Horton is that we do it a lot. Predictably, we got no runs in the inning, and wouldn't score until stringing a couple of base hits together in the 9th.

Game Two: Oregon 3, Hawaii 2 (12 innings)

This looks like it was the most fun game of the series, a 11 inning thriller marked by a couple of outstanding pitching performances. Of most interest was the debut of freshman Jake Reed, who will be the Saturday starter this season. Reed had a solid performance giving up two runs and striking out four in six innings. The offense was able to pick him up, as Brett Hambright picked up a two run double in the top of the sixth to tie the game at two. Nobody could have expected the pleasant surprise that happened next as Jimmie Sherfy, a sophomore who got shelled in two appearances last season (1.1 innings, seven runs), went 5 2/3 innings of shutout relief while striking out 13, and six in a row at one point, in as dominant a relief appearance as you will ever see. Finally, in the 12th, second baseman Aaron Payne led off with a double, stole a base, and scored on a wild pitch for the winning margin.

The Ducks had a total of 13 hits in the game, led by Payne's 4-5 night. JJ Altobelli, Aaron Jones, and Ryon Healy also had two hits apiece.

Game Three: Oregon 14, Hawaii 5

The Oregon bats flat out exploded in this game, scoring 14 runs on 16 hits in the romp. The Ducks took a 2-0 lead in the top of the first, but really broke the game open with eight runs in the top of the fourth. The highlight was Kyle Garlick's two run homer. The pitching performance wasn't spectacular, as Brandon Tessar gave up 4 runs in 6.2 innings, but it was sufficient, and the game was well over by the time those runs scored.

Game Four: Oregon 12, Hawaii 6

Oregon had another 17 hits this game, including seven of the extra-base variety. Oregon again broke open the game early by putting up a seven spot in the third inning, and coasted to victory from there. JJ Altobelli was 5-6 with three doubles, while freshman Shaun Case had a triple and a homer from the DH spot (he then came in to pitch, and gave up two runs without recording an out). Five other Ducks had a multiple hit game, and Jeff Gold got the win, despite giving up four runs in three innings.

Hawaii's pitching staff isn't great, but there is great reason for optimism about the offense after this performance, expecially with freshmen such as Case and Heineman stepping up. Keudell and Reed look solid as the Friday and Saturday starters this year, but it looks like the Sunday spot will be up for grabs between Tessar and Gold. Perhaps Sherfy will get a look after the game he had.

Oregon will get a step up in competition when they travel to Nashville on Thursday. They'll play a game against Belmont, then a three game series with #17 Vanderbilt. Given Vandy's pitching, it will be a much stiffer test for the Oregon offense.

For more, check out Oregon's stats after one series.