The walk-off home run might be the single most triumphant way to win a sporting event, but I think that an Oregon baseball player would call a walk-off bunt the most fulfilling way to win a game. On Sunday afternoon, Mitchell Tolman delivered one of the most exciting plays all year for the Oregon baseball team, converting a walk-off squeeze play to complete a three game sweep of #21 Stanford with a 4-3 win.
In an exciting back-and forth-affair, the Ducks showed a good ability to score early in the game, pitch their way to favorable situations, and battle with their backs against the wall. After Ryon Healy gave Oregon a 1-0 lead in the first inning with his seventh RBI of the season, the Ducks coasted through most of the early innings with the lead. Brett Thomas added an insurance RBI in the fifth inning to make the score 2-0.
That early lead made things a lot easier for Jake Reed, who has had problems getting consistent run support throughout the early parts of the season, which lent to his demotion in the pitching rotation a few weeks ago. On Sunday, however, Reed looked as good as ever in holding the Cardinal off the scoreboard through the first five innings.
Reed’s luck would change in the sixth as two unearned runs tied the game up at 2-2. The sophomore bounced back in the seventh with a scoreless frame, but in the eighth, Reed allowed a solo home run to give Stanford a late 3-2 lead.
Oregon was able to load the bases in the bottom half of the eighth, but couldn’t push across the tying run. In the final inning, Darrell Hunter combined for a scoreless top of the ninth to keep the one-run deficit intact.
With the top of the lineup due to turn over in the bottom of the ninth, back-to-back walks brought Oregon slugger Ryon Healy up to the plate. Keeping up with his hot streak, Healy came through yet again with an RBI double to left field, tying the game up at 3-3, and pushing the winning run to third. In the clean-up spot, Mitchell Tolman executed the squeeze play to give the Ducks the 4-3 win.
With a sweep of Stanford, the Ducks accomplished a few important things with regards to their position in the conference and national spectrums. Oregon now sits at the top of the conference rankings thanks to their league leading 16 conference wins. Oregon State is lined up right behind the Ducks with 14 wins in three fewer games. Oregon also added some crucial victories over a quality opponent to improve their aggregate ranking around the nation, and improve their reputation for a potential regional host invitation.
The Ducks will head north on I-5 this week to take on Seattle University for a two game midweek series, then will travel east to Pullman for a three game weekend series with Washington State. As Oregon’s schedule turns to the home stretch, winning each series will become increasingly important for the Ducks. With a reasonably favorable back end to their schedule, the expectations are set high for this excellent Oregon baseball team.