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Duck offense wakes up in 10-5 victory over Hawaii

The middle of the Oregon lineup started to heat up as A.J. Balta gave Oregon a late push to beat Hawaii, 10-5 in game two.

Harry How

Oregon's A.J. Balta brought home the go-ahead run to give the Ducks the lead in the seventh inning, as Oregon hung on to beat Hawaii 10-5 on Saturday night. Alongside Balta's clutch efforts, a productive evening from the heart of the lineup allowed the Ducks to overcome early pitching struggles and win the second of four games in Hawaii.

Balta delivered 2 RBIs on a pinch-hit single to break a 5-5 tie and put Hawaii away for good. Balta's at bat was set up by Tyler Baumgartner, whose three hit night spearheaded a revitalized effort from the middle of the lineup. Cleanup hitter Mitchell Tolman also added 2 RBIs to the cause.

Jordan Spencer got the nod for game two, but had a shaky outing. The lefty lasted just 3.1 innings, allowed five hits and three walks, pegging him for two earned runs. Stephen Nogosek made his Oregon debut in relief of Spencer, but walked two and allowed two earned runs in just one inning pitched. It was the veteran Darrell Hunter (1-0) that worked out of four tricky spots for Oregon. He pitched 3.1 innings and allowed no earned runs on one hit.

Oregon got things going right away as the top of the lineup pushed across a run in the first frame. Aaron Payne reached by taking his 129th career HBP, an Oregon career record (Payne would later tally his 130th HBP in the 8th). Mitchell Tolman brought Payne home with an RBI single for Oregon's first run, then an error from the Hawaii shortstop pushed Tolman across to give Oregon a 2-0 lead.

The Ducks were back at it in the second as Josh Graham started his season with a double to left field. Yet another error from Hawaii's shortstop brought Graham home to push Oregon's lead to 3-0.

Hawaii battled back in the third as three singles loaded the bases for the 'Bows. With one out, Jordan Spencer delivered a ground ball to his infield. Oregon tried to turn a double play, but could only get one out, allowing a run to score to cut the lead to 3-1. Oregon would respond with a pair of singles in the top of the fourth, setting up a sacrifice bunt and an RBI sacrifice fly from Scott Heineman to make the score 4-1.

The 'Bows rallied back again in the bottom of the fourth. Hawaii got a man aboard with a single, then worked a walk off of Spencer to put the pressure back on the Ducks. With Spencer's pitch count over 80 through just 3.1 innings pitched, Coach Horton relived his starter with freshman Stephen Nogosek. Nogosek started his first batter with a strike, but through 4 consecutive balls to load the bases with just one out. Nogosek would have to work hard to get out of the inning, getting deep into counts, but left the inning relatively cleanly with just one run scoring off of a sacrifice fly to bring the score to 4-2.

Oregon got the run right back in the fifth in impressive fashion. Tyler Baumgartner started the inning with a ringing double and was quickly pushed home by a Mitchell Tolman RBI single to make the score 5-2. Kyle Garlick followed suit with a single to give Oregon three consecutive hits from the heart of its lineup. With runners at first and second, Coach Horton went to his normal strategy by having Nick Catalano bunt the runners into scoring position, but the bunt seemingly killed the rally. Josh Graham struck out for the second out, then Austin Grebeck quickly flew out to right field to end the inning, stranding runners at second and third.

Then Hawaii was able to crack the Oregon bullpen in the bottom half of the fifth. With Nogosek still on the mound, Hawaii got a one out single then earned another baserunner from a hit by pitch. Horton then tapped the bullpen again for Darrell Hunter's first outing, but Hawaii promptly loaded the bases off of an error when Hunter failed to cover first base on a grounder between the first and second basemen. Hunter then walked a run home on four pitches, and allowed a single with the bases still loaded, scoring three runs in total and tying the game up at 5-5.

Both teams went in order in the 6th, but Oregon was able to regain the lead in the seventh with a bit of clutch offense. Baumgartner started the rally with a single, Tolman reached after getting hit by a pitch, while Garlick put both runners into scoring position with a sacrifice bunt. This time the sacrifice would pay off as A.J. Balta would come through with a pinch hit two RBI single to left. Grebeck kept things going with a two out RBI single to give Oregon an 8-5 lead.

With a three run lead in the final innings, Oregon's bullpen shut the door nicely. Darrell Hunter had a rough start to his outing, but got into a nice rhythm to hang two zeros in the sixth and seventh innings. Hunter would get two outs in the eighth, but needed some help from lefty Porter Clayton, who struck out the only batter he faced in the eighth to end the threat.

The Ducks were able to get a bit of insurance in the top of the ninth as a balk put Garlick into scoring position to set up a J.B. Bryant RBI single, his first as a Duck. Another error from the Hawaii infield scored Bryant to push the score to 10-5. Clayton would clean up the deal in the ninth without a scratch to give Oregon its second win of the season.

All in all the game was a good one. Obviously the shaky start from Spencer is concerning, but we'll reserve judgement until he really eases his way into the rotation. He'll have to finish out innings stronger and operate better from the stretch to find some success. Spencer averaged over 24 pitches per inning, an alarming number, but interestingly enough, was able to earn a leadoff out (first batter of an inning) three out of four times. Same goes for Nogosek, who threw 37 pitches over three outs.

On offense, the bats started to wake up a bit. 14 hits is always nice, but more importantly, the middle of the order was a threat all night. Kyle Garlick went 2-3 with three hard hit balls on the night, Tyler Baumgartner went 3-5 with two runs scored, while Mitchell Tolman carried an even larger portion of the load, going 2-3 with two runs scored and 2 RBIs. If Oregon wants to do anything this season, the heart of the lineup must get into rhythm quickly and stay in rhythm throughout. One player to keep an eye on is Scott Heineman, who has started the season in the leadoff spot. He's now 0-9 on the season with a .091 OBP. Look for him to turn things around soon.

Game three comes your way tomorrow with first pitch scheduled for 3:05 PST.