Oregon and Illinois State did battle on Thursday night in Eugene. The Ducks (4-0) were ultimately the victors in an 8-5 game that came much closer than anyone who was watching the first inning would believe.
Oregon looked sharp in their home debut as they jumped out to an early lead, scoring four runs before Tim Susnara was retired on strikes. For the first out of the inning.
Illinois State starter, Jeffrey Barton couldn’t make it out of the first inning, retiring only one batter and walking three en route to giving up four runs. Oregon was creative in its initial attack, getting on base in every way imaginable.
Austin Grebeck started the action with a leadoff walk, A.J. Balta legged out a single to short and Jakob Goldfarb took a pitch off his foot. Cleanup man, Phil Craig-St. Louis proceeded to bring them all home, ripping a bases-clearing triple to right-center field. He crossed the plate himself on the next play as Steven Packard hit a rocket up the middle of the field, forcing Barton off the mound.
Control issues helped Oregon put one more on the board in the inning as Matt Kroon scored on a wild pitch, giving the Ducks a commanding 5-0 lead to begin the night.
The Redbirds wouldn’t let Oregon sit on their lead for long, responding with two runs of their own in the second.
Following the 35 minute Oregon half, freshman starter Isaiah Carranza served up a leadoff walk to Jean Ramirez.
Head coach George Horton sensed trouble brewing with his young starter resting in the dugout while his offense gave him some wiggle room.
“I kept asking him, ‘Do you wanna play catch?’,” he said, “Maybe I shouldn’t ask him and just tell him to go down and play catch. That’s what I’m supposed to do. I’m supposed to be the smart guy.”
Illinois St. took advantage of the cold Carranza as Ryan Hutchison‘s single plated Ramirez for their first run of the game. Another run squeaked across at the end of the inning when Owen Miller came home before Hutchison was caught in a pickle between second and third to end the inning.
The Redbirds kept the ball rolling in fourth, pouncing on Carranza as they reeled off three straight hits to open the frame.
Miller’s double off the left-center wall to cut the Ducks lead to a single run. After a trip to the mound by Horton, Carranza settled back into a rhythm, forcing a fly out and a double play to escape with his lead intact.
A lull in the action kept PK Park quiet for the next three innings, but the silence was deafening when the first homer of the year in Eugene came off the bat of the Redbirds’ Daniel Dwyer. The left fielder turned a bloop single into an inside-the-park home run, as the ball bounced off Grebeck’s glove and rolled into center, tying the game and putting the Ducks in a spot that looked impossible following their monster first inning.
In response, the Ducks took back the lead back for the final time in the bottom of the seventh. Once again, capitalizing on pitching mistakes and some classic Horton small-ball to do their damage.
A bunt single put Goldfarb on first and a stolen base slotted him into scoring position. Back to back walks and two passed balls pushed two more runs home, giving the Ducks a 7-5 lead. The nail in Illinois State’s coffin came off the bat of Kroon when he ripped an RBI single to plate Packard.
Closing the door for Oregon was side-armer Cooper Stiles. Duck fans will have to wait to see closer Stephen Nogosek in action at home, as Stiles worked the final two innings, striking out one and picking up his first save of the year.
Cole Irvin (0-0, 0.00 ERA, 7 ip, 9k) will take the mound against Jacob Hendren (0-1, 10.8 ERA, 5 ip, 3k) Friday night at PK Park.
Top Photo by Gary Breedlove