The Oregon baseball team (31-10, 10-5 Pac-12) narrowly beat Washington State 2-1 Saturday to sweep the Cougars (17-19, 7-8), thanks to some excellent defense from the Ducks’ outfielders.
In the eighth inning with Oregon up 2-1, Luke Stratman came up with two outs and hit a single up the middle that appeared to plate Michael Monda. But Austin Grebeck, who replaced Nick Catalano in the seventh, threw to Mark Karvaviotis, who tagged out Nick Tanielu rounding second base. The out occurred before Monda touched home, eliminating the would-be run and preserving Oregon’s lead.
“I knew it had to be a perfect throw home and I saw the guy round pretty hard,” Grebeck said postgame. “So, that was the best chance I had at at least ending the inning.”
Grebeck and head coach George Horton said the play was a mixture of instincts and work in practice.
“(Oregon coaches) talk so much about, ‘What if this?’ and ‘What if that?’ and priority Z, as we call it,” Horton said. “We don’t want our guys dwelling on priority Z and forgetting A and B and C and playing catch, but because we talk about that all the time we think we can get close to Z sometimes. … And then Austin Grebeck’s one of the few freshmen in America, because he’s a baseball kid, that would think about something like that.”
The Ducks, specifically second baseman Aaron Payne, went crazy after the game-saving play.
“I think that might be the most excited I’ve seen Payne get since I’ve been here,” freshman starting pitcher Trent Paddon said.
Both starting pitchers looked good to start the game, especially Washington State’s Jason Monda. He faced one batter over the minimum until the sixth inning.
Paddon faced more trouble but still put up zeroes through five, thanks in large part to the outfield defense.
In the top of the second, Paddon threw a wild pitch with two outs and runners on first and second to give the Cougars two runners in scoring position. Cooper Elliott, at the plate during the wild pitch, smoked a drive to left field but J.B. Bryant made a nice running catch to keep the game scoreless.
In the top of the fourth with runners on first and second, Collin Slaybaugh hit a single to right field and Tanielu (on second) was waved home. Tyler Baumgartner quickly scooped the ball up and fired home, throwing Tanielu out easily to end the inning.
The Ducks scored both runs with two outs in the sixth. A.J. Balta hit a double to right field to score Shaun Chase and tie the game.
“Usually what I do, just roll (the ball) over to second base,” Balta said. “I couldn’t do that. I had to try to square a ball up and get the run home.”
Baumgartner drove in Balta a pitch later on a softly hit single to left.
Paddon, making his second career start as the Ducks, earned his first win as Duck. He went six innings, giving up five hits, one walk and one run (earned) while striking out six, a career-high.
“There were more weapons for us to use with the changeup and the slider working a little bit better,” Paddon said.
The Ducks, who extended their winning streak to nine on Saturday, get nearly a week off before facing fifth-ranked Oregon State in Corvallis, Ore. The first game of the series will be Friday at 7 p.m.
– Payne stole his 41st career base in the eighth inning, breaking Oregon’s all-time record set by Don Reynolds in 1975.
– Horton hasn’t decided on next Sunday’s starter yet but said it’s between Paddon and Brando Tessar. Horton didn’t have an update on Matt Krook’s injury status but said the final decision will likely come Monday afternoon.
Follow Victor Flores on Twitter @vflores415