The welcome sound of the sharp “ping” of bats on balls returned to PK Park this weekend as the Ducks welcomed the Xavier Musketeers to Eugene for a 4-game series. At press time on Saturday evening, the teams had completed three of the four games, with the final game scheduled for Sunday at Noon.
Game 1 - Friday - Oregon 3 - Xavier 2
The Ducks won the first game with a walk-off sacrifice fly by transfer player Owen Diodati in the bottom of the 9th inning. Oregon trailed 2 - 1 going into the bottom half of the 8th, and while the Ducks showed no sign of the explosive offensive club from 2022 in this game, they nevertheless rallied for the victory.
Junior righthander Logan Mercado started on the mound for Oregon and produced a quality outing. Mercado pitched 4 innings and gave up just 1 run on 2 hits while striking out 7. Xavier returns 7 of their 9 starting batters from last season, and early on Mercado had little trouble with the Musketeers seasoned lineup. Mercado’s only seeming mistake came in the third inning when he gave up a bases empty, one-out home run. He struck out the other three batters he faced in that inning.
The Ducks got off to a decent if not explosive start, taking a 1 - 0 lead in the bottom of the first. Tanner Smith drew a 2-out walk which Diodati followed with a double down the left-field line, allowing Smith to motor all the way home.
Right-handed Junior Jacob Hughes came on in relief of Mercado for the top of the 5th and had immediate control trouble issuing back-to-back-to-back walks to the first three batters he faced on only 13 pitches. Although Hughes got the next batter to ground into a double play, the runner on third scored to give the Musketeers a 2 - 1 lead. Hughes then hit the next batter but was bailed out of the inning as Oregon catcher Josiah Cromwick gunned down an attempt to steal third base for the third out.
Hughes would pitch one more scoreless inning, and Oregon would use three more pitchers - each pitching one inning - who would allow just 3 baserunners and no runs over the last 3 innings. Oregon tied the game at 2-all in the bottom of the 8th as Cromwell led off with a double down the left-field line. After a fly out, Cromwick would score on a Xavier fielding error at 2nd base.
Oregon could not score again in the 8th, but after Senior right-hander Josh Mollerus came on in relief and set down the Musketeers in order in the top of the 9th, including two strikeouts, the Ducks struck for the game-winner. Mt. Hood Community product and Osaka, Japan native Rikuu Nishida led off with a single to left field and Drew Cowley followed with a walk to move Nishida into scoring position. Tanner Smith also drew a walk, loading the bases and setting the stage for Diodati’s sacrifice fly bringing Nishida home from 3rd for the win.
Mollerus (1-0) got the win for Oregon and Diodati went 1-3 with 2 RBI. Cromwick was also 1-3 as Oregon had just 4 hits for the game but were able to take advantage of Xavier miscues and solid pitching and defense to grab the victory.
Game 2 - Saturday - Oregon 9 - Xavier 2
The first game of Saturday’s double-header was scheduled for just 7 innings, a fact lamented by Oregon Head Coach Mark Wasikowski before the game. He noted that, particularly early in the season, the more work the team can get in actual game situations the better.
Oregon’s explosive offense returned with a vengeance in this game, as the Ducks struck for runs in each of the first 4 innings, scoring all their 9 runs. Oregon catcher Josiah Cromwick returned to the spotlight with a 3-run blast in the first inning.
In the second, highly-touted San Jacinto Community College signee and Puerto Rico native Sabin Ceballos led off the inning with a line-drive homer to left center - that may still be circling the Earth - for Oregon’s 4th run.
In the 3rd, Oregon struck for 2 more runs on another homer by Cromwick to go ahead 6 - 0. Oregon’s final offensive surge came in the 4th inning as they scored 3 more times. DH Ceballos led off the inning with a walk and Colby Shade followed with an infield single. After a ground out, Rikuu Nishida ripped a single to right center that plated both Ceballos and Shade for an 8 - 0 Oregon lead.
A ground out and a wild pitch moved Nishida to third, and he scored on a Tanner Smith double up the middle to produce Oregon’s 9th and final run.
Oregon led 9 - 0 after the 4th inning, and Xavier had been unable to do anything with Ducks starter, Freshman right-hander Leo Uelmen. It was Uelmen’s first collegiate start and he was throwing a lot of pitches in the low 90 miles per hour and also working the ball with some very nice off-speed stuff.
Xavier was able to pull 2 back in the top half of the 5th against Uelmen. The Ducks coaching staff elected to leave Uelmen in with the big lead and allow him to work out of the trouble which he ultimately did. Freshman left-hander - and all-name team nominee - Grayson Grinsell came on to close out the last 2 innings, giving up no hits and no runs, and striking out 4 of the 6 batters he faced.
Uelmen (1-0) got what is likely to be the first of many wins for him in a Duck uniform. Oregon had 9 hits, led by Cromwick’s 2-3 with 5 RBIs and Nishida’s 2-3 with 2 RBIs. Smith and Ceballos each had an RBI for the Ducks.
Game 3 - Saturday - Oregon 5 - Xavier 3
Oregon completed the double-header sweep and forged its third win in as many games against the Musketeers on Saturday afternoon. The Ducks used one big offensive inning while never allowing Xavier to gain any real momentum. Through the first 2 games, Xavier had scored more than one run in only one inning, and in the third game the Ducks again prevented any Musketeer rallies.
Xavier opened the scoring with a two-out solo homer in the top of the third. Oregon answered right back in the bottom of that inning. Leading off, Sophomore Bennett Thompson put a ball in play that resulted in a Xavier throwing error that allowed him to advance all the way to 2nd. After Thompson advanced to third on a flyout to centerfield, Rikuu Nishida also reached on a Xavier error, which allowed Thompson to score, tying the game at 1 -1 after 3 innings.
Neither team could score in the 4th, but Oregon struck for 4 runs in the bottom of the 5th. Freshman infielder Dominic Hellman led off the inning with a grounder through the right side of the infield. Junior outfielder Colby Shade was hit by a pitch and the runners were advanced by a Thompson sacrifice bunt. After a pop-up, Nishida singled to left to plate both Hellman and Shade to put Oregon up 3 - 1. Drew Cowley was up next and deposited the second pitch he saw over the left center field fence for a 2-run dinger.
This gave the Ducks a 5 - 1 lead. Oregon would not score again but would give up only single runs to the Musketeers in the 6th and 8th innings, securing the 5 - 3 victory.
Freshman right-hander and Canada native Matthew Grabmann started the game on the mound for Oregon and went 4 innings, getting no decision. He pitched well, giving up just 3 hits and 1 earned run while striking out 3 and walking 3.
Freshman right-hander and fellow Canadian Turner Spoljaric (1-0) came on in relief, pitching 3 innings and getting the win. Spoljaric gave up 1 run on 4 hits and walked 1 while striking out 4.
Senior righty Matt Dallas came on for clean-up duty, pitching the last 2 innings and earning a Save. He gave up just 3 hits and a run while striking out 2.
Oregon’s pitching staff and defense were very impressive in these games, holding Xavier to just 7 runs over the 3 games. Oregon rotated a lot of players at the plate and will be working on setting a top batting order which is likely to be pretty productive. The Ducks roster showed some real depth and the Coaches put some of their Freshmen pitchers to the test, giving them the chance to work out of trouble. This should provide a confidence-builder going forward for the newbies, as well as helping them build trust with the Coaches. Nishida and Ceballos had impressive debuts in Oregon uniforms.
The two teams finish out their 4-game set on Sunday at 12:05 pm. The game is available on the Oregon LiveStream, which has been a little hit-and-miss during this series.