Trailing by one in the ninth inning with one out, the Ducks loaded the bases on Governors closer Tyler Rogers via two walks and a hit batsman, bringing up returning left fielder Brett Thomas.
Thomas tapped the ball back to Rogers (0-1) who went to tag Ducks shortstop J.J. Altobelli as he headed home. Despite appearing as if he tagged him, home plate umpire Greg Street ruled Rogers missed the tag and called Altobelli safe at the plate with the tying run. A protest by Governors head coach Gary McClure fell on deaf ears and play continued.
“He wouldn’t ask the third base umpire who would’ve had a look at it,” McClure said. “He wanted me out of there and that told me all that I needed to know.”
The momentum carried into the next at-bat as Kyle Garlick’s ground ball was mishandled by Governors third baseman Greg Bachman, allowing Aaron Payne to score the winning run. UO head coach George Horton acknowledged the controversy with empathy, acknowledging that he had been on the wrong side of calls a time or two in his career.
“I had the worst angle in the ballpark,” Horton said. “If he was tagged it was on his backside and where I hang out in the dugout you couldn’t tell. If it was an incorrect call that’s a tough pill to swallow for the Governors.”
Still, the final score read Ducks 6, Governors 5. And though controversy hovered over the final mark, there was plenty of back and forth that led to the final moments.
The Ducks compiled an uncharacteristic 13 hits at the plate, led mostly by the bottom of the order. Third baseman Ryan Hambright had a career night by going 4-for-4 with two runs. His brother Brett Hambright had an RBI sac fly to put the Ducks on the board in the second inning, and set up two more runs with sacrifice bunts later in the game. For once, Oregon was winning with offense…and a little help.
“Strange things happen in playoff baseball,” Horton said. “Different people step up.”
In a game filled with errors, the Ducks benefitted the most scoring three runs off of errors during the game. Senior center fielder Vernell Warren induced two throwing errors by Governors starter Zach Toney with his speed on bunt attempts that led to two Ducks runs.
“It’s pretty special when everybody in the ballpark knows he’s probably going to bunt and they still can’t get him out,” Horton said.
Oregon returned the favor with two errors, the most egregious being reliever Tommy Thorpe’s throwing error on a pickoff attempt that led to a RBI sacrifice fly by Governors left fielder Cody Hudson to give Austin Peay a 5-4 lead in the eighth inning.
From there the Ducks, who hadn’t won a game trailing after the eighth inning all season, looked dead in the water. Then, the home field advantage kicked in.
“We feel tickled to death that we were able to eek out that victory,” UO head coach George Horton said.
Instead of starting regular Friday night starter and Pac-12 pitcher of the year Alex Keudell, Horton opted to start Jeff Gold, the usual Sunday starter. Gold was solid through four innings, until a rough fifth inning saw him exit with one out. Holding a 2-0 lead, Gold gave up a three-run home run to Jordan Hankins that put the Governors ahead. A subsequent double left Horton with no choice but to go to the bullpen and reliever Joey Housey.
Housey pitched a scoreless 1 2/3 innings before turning the ball over to Thorpe who was less than solid, giving up two runs on a hit and two walks. Reliver Jimmie Sherfy (1-0) stopped the bleeding with a scoreless 1 1/3 before the home field advantage kicked in for the Ducks offense in the ninth inning.
Now the Ducks have to turn their attention to a matchup that many have been anticipating since the brackets were set last Monday: a meeting with Cal State Fullerton. The Titans disposed of Indiana State 9-5 in Game 1 of the Regional Series on Friday, setting up the showdown between Horton and his old ballclub.
“There will be no secrets,” Horton said.
The coach expressed his mutual respect for the Fullerton staff and players, many of whom he has personal relationships with. Though emotions will run high, he and the Ducks remain steadfast to their ideal of beating a faceless opponent, even if the name on the jersey is all to familiar.
“When the anthem plays I’m going to try and beat them like they’re going to try and beat me,” Horton said.
The Ducks and Titans face off at 6 p.m. on Saturday.
GAME NOTES —
Attendance at PK Park was 3,771, which is the third highest attendance in history.
The Ducks left seven men on base to the Governors nine.
Altobelli had a ground rule double to put the Ducks ahead 4-3 in the sixth inning