Oregon’s lead in the Pac-12 conference standings sits at a-game-and-a-half over Arizona, who stayed at No. 14 in the Baseball America rankings after sweeping the California Golden Bears over the weekend.
The Ducks were ineffective offensively until an incident at the end of the fifth inning when left fielder Brett Thomas and third base coach Jay Uhlman were involved in a verbal spat with Trojans starter Stephen Tarpley and the USC bench. Players from both sides came out of their dugouts, but order was quickly restored by the umpires before it could escalate. A warning was given to both sides.
Following a brief meeting in the dugout, the Ducks offense awoke in a big way with a three-run sixth inning.
“My players love Coach Uhlman and that animosity, at least our opinion about that, might have woke a sleeping dog up,” UO head coach George Horton said.
Third baseman Thomas Walker started things with a walk, which was followed by a Brett Hambright double to left field. Center fielder Andrew Mendenhall knocked in Walker with a single to draw the Ducks within a run.
Shortstop J.J. Altobelli drove in Hambright with a sacrifice fly, and a single by Aaron Payne was enough to chase Tarpley (5-2) with runners on the corners and only one out. Right fielder Aaron Jones completed the comeback with a trademark Horton move, bunting his way on to first base while Payne scored. Just like that, Oregon had a 4-3 lead.
“It’s another example of how responsive my guys are,” Horton said. “They got mad and they dropped a three on them and extended the lead.”
Hambright, Payne and Jones each recorded multi-hit games. Hambright tied the game earlier in the fourth inning with a bunt single that was aided by a throwing error, allowing Kyle Garlick to score.
In the eighth inning, the Trojans looked poised to tie the game with runners on the corners after a Matt Foat stolen base following a strikeout by Ducks reliever Tommy Thorpe. Horton called on closer Jimmie Sherfy, and the right-hander delivered by striking out Jake Hernandez and getting pinch hitter Sean Spear to fly out to right field to end the threat.
Oregon added some insurance runs in the eighth inning after Payne walked and Aaron Jones singled to put runners at the corners to start the inning. First baseman Ryon Healy’s one-out bloop single to right field that plated Payne and Thomas, whose hit streak was snapped at seven games with a 0-for-4 day, knocked in Jones with a sacrifice fly to right.
That was more than enough for Sherfy, who struck out the side in the ninth for his third save of the series and 16th of the season.
“In the eighth inning, I didn’t feel it,” Sherfy said. “In the ninth, I felt it. It was good.”
Ducks starter Jeff Gold, despite not having his best stuff, lasted six innings giving up five hits and three runs, one earned, with two walks and six strikeouts before reliever Joey Housey took over in the seventh inning.
Gold (7-3) fell victim to a pair of errors by the Ducks defense that led to damage, including one by normally sure-handed shortstop J.J. Altobelli in the second inning that allowed Trojans second baseman Andres Rodriguez to score from second base to put USC up 1-0.
Rodriguez, who entered the game with a team low .103 batting average, had a pair of hits off of Gold, as did Foat, who took the right hander deep with a two-run home run in the fifth inning that broke a 1-1 tie.
The Ducks now look ahead to a non-conference series against Seattle next weekend while the Wildcats take on the Trojans in Los Angeles with a chance to make up ground. Though they won’t be able to make a dent in the conference standings, the Ducks players don’t seem to mind. According to Gold, Sherfy and Jones, they don’t even check the standings.
“Well I think some of them are lying to you,” Horton said with a grin.
GAME NOTES –
Attendance at PK Park was 2,114.
Altobelli extended his consecutive games reaching base streak to a season high 13 by getting on base in the third inning. Aaron Payne extended his streak to 11 with his leadoff triple in the first inning.
12 of Sherfy’s last 15 outs have been strikeouts.
The Ducks left 11 men on base.