EUGENE, Ore.- It took a lot of help, but the Ducks were able to put enough offense together to best the second-ranked Vanderbilt Commodores 7-5 at PK Park.
It appeared Oregon (11-6) was destined to end up on the losing end of a sweep entering the eighth inning with a 5-2 deficit, but the Ducks and Commodores had other intentions. Vanderbilt starter Philip Pfeifer had blazed through the Ducks line-up, but hit Aaron Payne to open the inning, walked another batter and moved Payne over on a wild pitch, and that was just the start.
The Vanderbilt (15-2) bullpen combined to walk two more batters, hit another and threw a run-scoring wild pitch. It was then a two-out Steven Packard routine chopper to third baseman Vince Conde that changed the
game. Conde handled the ball cleanly, but with the bases loaded, he threw the ball well over first baseman Conrad Gregor. Two Oregon batters scored and the game was tied at five.
“We didn’t want to get swept at our home park that’s for sure,” said leftfielder Brett Thomas. “I think we came on strong and hopefully we’ll build off of this.”
It wasn’t until Scott Heineman singled that the Ducks picked up a hit and the base knock proved the difference maker, scoring two to give Oregon a 7-5 lead.
“I was put in the right situation, anyone one of us would’ve come through in that situation I feel. Luckily enough I was the guy to go up and do it, Heineman said.”
In total, the Ducks put a five-spot on the board in the inning, but did so with just one hit.
“They made it a little easier on us in the eighth,” said head coach George Horton. “I thought the entire day the at-bats were more in character.”
“We played some good offense in that game,” Thomas said. ”We came out on top. We only had one hit in that eighth inning. That’s the epitome of Duck baseball and we love that.”
Oregon’s line-up showed the most pop it had all series early in the game, taking a 2-1 lead in the fourth inning on a Thomas single that drove in Ryon Healy.
And things seemed to be going the Ducks way on the mound, as freshman Cole Irvin appeared to have dusted off an early run to shut down 12 consecutive Vanderbilt batters.
But it came undone for Irvin in the sixth, when Vanderbilt opened the inning with doubles from Spencer Navin and John Norwood. Navin scored on Norwood’s hit and Norwood came in on a Tony Kemp go-ahead sac fly to give them a 3-2 lead.
Falling behind had become a trend for Irvin, who had done so in two of his first three collegiate starts. In the previous efforts, he finished with wins and quality starts, but Sunday neither occurred, as he received no decision and failed to meet the quality start requirements.
Oregon had picked up just two hits in each of its previous losses to the Commodores, so Sunday, rather than swing away the Ducks chose to bunt. If Horton’s offenses had been described as small ball, the Ducks played miniature ball Sunday.
“The good news is that we’ve always wanted to go to plan B—the bunting game—when we’re not hitting, and today was the first time that we executed some bunts,” Horton said.
The Ducks reached on three straight bunts to open its line-up, the second of which was aided by a Commodore error. Oregon capitalized off of the strategy, tying the game 1-1 in the inning on a Brett Thomas sac fly.
“This is a great bunting surface here,” said Heineman, who led the game off with a bunt single. “Personally I haven’t been taking as much advantage of that. I’m trying to use my speed a little more for the team.”
Vanderbilt added to its lead in sixth and eighth inning. First, Mike Yastzremski sent an Irvin pitch to deep right. Yastzresmki added to his RBI total in the eighth with a well hit double that scored Connor Harrell.
Oregon was led offensively by two-hit performances from Heineman, Healy and Thomas. Heineman and Thomas also added 2 RBI a piece.
Jimmie Sherfy came on in relief in the eighth and picked up his first win of the season.