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Ducks First Ever Super-Regional Team to Win After 8-Run Deficit

Oregon Bats Again Overcome Early Pitching Woes

Syndication: The Register Guard Ben Lonergan/The Register-Guard / USA TODAY NETWORK

In the latest episode of “Let’s See How Large an Early Deficit We Can Overcome,” Oregon stormed back from a horrendous early pitching performance to win the first game of the Eugene Super-Regionals over Oral Roberts 9 - 8 before a sold-out, raucous crowd at PK Park. The Ducks trailed 8 - 0 after the top of the third inning, and the ESPN broadcast made much of the fact that teams were 0 - 96 in Super-Regionals when trailing by that many runs. Make that 1 - 96. As they have done so many times in recent weeks, the Ducks shed their problems on the mound and gave their bats the chance to bring them all the way back to win their 10th straight game. In the process, Oregon busted Oral Roberts’ 21-game winning streak.

Grayson Grinsell started on the mound for the Ducks and gave up three harmless hits, including a bunt single in the first and two singles in the second, one of which was immediately snuffed out by a following double-play.

But Grinsell would get in trouble out of the gate in the top of the third, giving up a lead-off walk and a stolen base, then a single putting runners on first and third with no outs. A groundout scored the runner from third and then Grinsell issued another walk and a home run to put the Golden Eagles up 4 - 0. Oregon stuck with Grinsell for one more batter, who laced a double down the left-field line. That brought on Dylan McShane but didn’t improve things for Oregon despite McShane retiring the first batter. McShane then threw a wild pitch, hit a batter, and threw another wild pitch which allowed another run. The next two batters walked to load the bases and a bloop single to right somehow cleared the bases, giving Oral Roberts 8 runs in the inning - amazingly all they would score on the night. The Ducks brought in Ian Umlandt to close out the final batter.

As they have frequently done, Oregon’s bats went to work to pick up their pitchers. Jacob Walsh led off the bottom of the third with a solo shot way over the fence in left center and Bennett Thompson followed with another dinger to left.

Gavin Grant then got to first on an infield single, advanced to second on a passed ball and moved to third on a groundout. Bryce Boettcher, filling in for the injured Colby Shade, was hit by a pitch and the Ducks looked like they were in business with runners at first and third and only one out. Unfortunately, a double-play ended the Oregon threat, but they now trailed 8 - 2.

Umlandt gave up just a single in the Oral Roberts fourth, and the Ducks would come back for more. After a groundout, Tanner Smith singled (his 300th career hit) and Drew Smith moved him to third with another single. After Drew Smith stole second and a strikeout, Thompson crushed a ball over the left field fence - his second homer in two innings - to score 3 Oregon runs and cut the deficit to just 8 - 5.

Logan Mercado came on to pitch for Oregon in the 5th, and after issuing a walk set the Golden Eagles down in order. No Oregon batter reached base in that inning. In the 6th, Oral Roberts could again muster only a single against Mercado and Oregon picked up another run on a Drew Smith homer, the Ducks 4th of the game, to trail just 8 - 6.

Mercado stayed on in the 7th and began to struggle a bit after striking out the first two batters. Mercado walked two batters but got his third strikeout on a beautiful full-count pitch.

The Ducks would come all the way back to tie the game in the bottom of the 7th but miss a chance to take the lead. After a strikeout, Rikuu Nishida - the star of the Regionals for Oregon but quiet in this game so far - reached on catcher’s interference. The Ducks looked to small ball to try and manufacture a run, and Boettcher’s bunt was misplayed by the Golden Eagles’ pitcher, giving Oregon runners on first and second with one out. Drew Cowley would then single to right, scoring Nishida and moving Boettcher all the way to third. After a foul out, Tanner Smith would single to right, scoring Boettcher and knotting the game. In what was either poor base running, poor base coaching, or a failed effort to confuse the Golden Eagles fielders, Smith took a large turn at first, inviting Oral Roberts to engage him in a run-down between first and second. Had they done so it would have allowed Cowley to score from third, but the Golden Eagles sniffed out the strategy and threw Cowley out at home trying to score the go-ahead run for the Ducks instead. The deception seemed unnecessary, as had Smith stopped at first Oregon would have had runners on first and third with two outs and Drew Smith, who at the time was 2 - 3, coming to the plate.

In any event, Matt Dallas came on in relief of Mercado in the 8th and sandwiched an Oral Roberts single between two outs before he was relieved by Josh Mollerus who got a two-pitch pop-up to end the inning. The Ducks also couldn’t make anything happen in the bottom of the inning and we were off to the 9th with the score still tied 8 - 8.

Mollerus gave up a lead-off infield single, struck out a batter and then got the third batter to hit into an inning-ending double play. Oregon would come to bat in the bottom of the 9th needing only a single run for the win, and they would get it in short order. Grant led off with a walk and Nishida then drew another walk on 4 straight pitches. On every pitch, Nishida squared around to bunt and the Golden Eagles pitcher unsuccessfully tried to pitch around the extended bat trying to either hit the bifurcated strike zone or get Nishida to mis-hit his bunt. With the winning run now on second, Oral Roberts made a pitching change and managed to get Grant at third base on a nice fielding play by the pitcher. But the out ultimately didn’t matter as Cowley was next up and rapped a single to right, plating the speedy Nishida from second with the winning run.

Oregon again used 6 pitchers in this game, as they did in their Regional-opening win over Xavier and for which they were mocked by Vanderbilt fans (who of course would very shortly have to eat their words). Mollerus (3-2) ended up with the win for Oregon, but Duck pitchers gave up only 3 hits, 3 walks and, crucially, no runs after the third-inning disaster. Pitching by Committee has been the order of the day for the Ducks for a while now and seems to be working for them.

Cowley was 2-5 with 2 RBI, Tanner and Drew Smith were both 2 - 4 with an RBI each and Thompson was also 2 - 4 with 4 RBI. Walsh’s dinger accounted for Oregon’s other run. Nishida scored twice and was left on base once despite not having a hit. He set an Oregon single-season “runs scored” record during the game.

So now the Ducks, stunningly, have a chance to reach the College Baseball World Series with a win tomorrow or Sunday, a feat they accomplished just once in the team’s first iteration - in 1954 - and not at all since the resurrection of Oregon baseball in 2009.