Ducks Drop Game 1; Defense Shows Spurts of Greatness as Well as Weakness

The Ducks opened up a three game series against Washington (23-16, 8-11) Friday night at PK Park. Ace Cole Irvin (1-4, 4.66 ERA) got the nod from assistant coach Mark Wasikowski. Head Coach George Horton will miss the first two contests after being ejected for arguing a check swing call last Sunday against USC. Washington sent freshman Noah Bremer (5-2, 2.29 ERA) to the mound to battle against Irvin.

Irvin was fairly efficient early, retiring the first two batters he faced before allowing a single to left by Austin Rei. Irvin got some help defensively as third baseman Mitchell Tolman made a beautiful diving play to make the first out of the night.

Brandon Cuddy opened up the scoring for the Ducks in the bottom of the second by streaking a double into left field to score Phil Craig-St. Louis, putting the Ducks up 1-0. Irvin struggled to begin the third, walking the first two batters he faced. A Jack Meggs bunt loaded the bases and set up a Berry shot up the middle to score the Huskies’ first run. Alex Schmidt followed with an RBI single to right field.

Errors have been a problem for the Ducks this season and that trend continued Friday. The top of the fourth opened with Sparks reaching first base on an error by Irvin. The situation was quickly remedied however, when Irvin picked off Sparks, his fourth pickoff of the year. With the base running threat neutralized, Irvin turned to strike out the following batter and force Jordan Levi to fly out for the final out.

Until the fifth the Ducks looked as if they were poised to take control of the contest, until Cuddy bobbled a pickoff throw that allowed Braden Bishop to advance all the way from first to third. The relay from Cuddy to Tolman nearly caught Bishop; however, as he was standing up the ball fell out of Tolman’s glove, allowing Bishop to score.

Cooper Stiles entered in the sixth and quickly found himself in trouble, giving up a lead-off single to Sparks who was then replaced by a pinch runner, Kyle London. London came all the way around to score on a Levi single for the Huskies’ sole run of the inning, putting them up 5-1.

The Ducks came out swinging in the bottom of the inning. Tolman parked a double in the right field corner to score the runners on first and second with one out. Craig-St. Louis moved Tolman to third on a soft grounder to third that Schmidt couldn’t quite handle. Designated hitter Matt Eureste hit into a fielder’s choice, scoring Tolman from third to put the Ducks within striking distance, closing the gap to 5-4.

The Ducks, however, did not score again, and the usually reliable middle relievers were uncharacteristically hittable Friday night. Stephen Nogosek replaced Stiles in the top of the seventh, but did not make it out of the inning, retiring only two batters. The Huskies pounced on Nogosek for two runs before Warren Brac entered the game, striking out Bishop to end the inning.

Brac made it out of the eighth unscathed, despite walking the lead-off batter and hitting two more in the inning. The Huskies put two more runs on the board in the ninth when Rei hit a bloop single to left that Nick Catalano was unable to wrangle, putting the Huskies up 10-4. It was over and out.

The Ducks’ defense showed flashes of brilliance as well as poor decision-making, ultimately costing them game one of a pivotal series. With only two out-of-conference games left on their schedule the Ducks need to win each of their remaining in-conference series if they are to have a chance to break the top 64 and make it to the post season.

When asked about the defensive miscues this season Wasikowski expressed his frustration, “it’s loose and it’s frustrating,” he told us. “Pitching and defense has always been a staple in coach Horton’s program and it’s lacking at this time.”

The Ducks will be return to PK Park Saturday night for game two at 7:30.

Top Photo by Gary Breedlove

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