EUGENE, Ore.- It wasn’t the home opener the Ducks had waited eight months for. Following a four-game sweep in sunny Honolulu, the Ducks returned to rain-plagued Eugene dropping their first of the season 7-2 to Loyola Marymount.
Oregon (4-1) wasted bases-loaded situations in the first two innings on strikeouts by Kyle Garlick in the first and then Brett Thomas in the second. After that Lions’ starter Colin Welmon settled in and limited the Ducks’ offense to just two base runners, striking out nine in the process over the next four innings.
“We were uncharacteristically inefficient offensively, but tip your cap to Welmon. He did a good job. It seemed like every time he needed a big pitch, he went to his off-speed stuff. We weren’t seeing it very well,” Horton said of the Lions’ starter.
“I think that definitely gave him [Welmon] some confidence, because we had him on the ropes early and it didn’t come through. So, it allowed him to continue deeper into the game,” shortstop J.J. Altobelli said.
Conversely, Oregon ace Jake Reed started out red-hot, retiring nine of his first ten batters, including seven in a row over one stretch, before succumbing to five-runs in the fourth and fifth innings.
Reed, who pitched a six-inning shutout in Hawaii, allowed Cullen Mahoney to score on a Tanner Donnels double in the fourth.
Loyola Marymount center fielder Zac Fujimoto led the fifth off with a triple. In what would prove to be a the momentum shifter, Fujimoto scored on an error by catcher Josh Graham, when a Ryan Hambright throw, which would have beaten Fujimoto, was dropped. The Lions tacked three more runs on in the fifth, which would prove to be Reed’s last.
“The error happens. I’m sure he’d want that one back,” Horton said. “If we catch the ball it’s not a four [runs], but that’s baseball.”
“I’m not going to lie and say that wasn’t a crucial play and a big play,” Reed said of the fifth inning error at home. “It would’ve been big with the lead off triple to get that out at home and have a runner on first with an out. It’s no excuse. I think I could’ve made a few better pitches in that inning to minimize it more.”
Reed finished with a career-high eight strikeouts, but took the loss.
Altobelli scored both of the Ducks’ run, reaching base in the seventh inning on a walk from new pitcher Sean Buckle. Altobelli would steal second and advance to third on a balk before Scott Heineman brought him in on double to deep left field. Ryan Healy would hit into a double play to end the threat.
With the game out of reach in the ninth, Altobelli would take a base after wearing a pitch to the shoulder. In similar fashion, he advanced on defensive indifference and a wild pitch, before Aaron Payne drove him in on a ground out to the pitcher.
Neither Altobelli or Heineman were outted by the Lions, proving to be the Ducks’ most effective hitters, going a combined 4-for-4 with the Heineman’s double the team’s only extra base hit.
“I just got into good counts early in the ball game and just tried to get a good swing on it,” Henieman said of his 3-for-3 effort.
Entering the season, head coach George Horton expressed concern with his youthful catchers Graham and Shaun Chase. But described their play on the Islands as “better than expected”. Friday Graham exhibited the play that Horton may have been concerned he’d see, dropping an out at home, while extended his season hitless streak to ten, striking out swinging his first three plate appearances.
The Ducks and Lions play again Saturday, first pitch is set for 2 p.m. at PK Park.