Teams that win championships have a number of seasonal components, all of which will contribute to their success. Elements such as coaching talent, player ability, facilities and the support of administration and fans frame a fifth component “Championship Luck.”
One seldom reads or hears of Championship Luck contributing to a pivotal game victory. Instead, we read of a freshman having a breakout game in hitting, or a player who drives in three runs to win a ball game in the 9th. Our articles will feature the idea that Oregon pitchers have held the opponent to three hits as the major reason in a 2-to-1 victory. All of these are proper aspects and well-focused parts of a successful program, however little mention is made of the fact that all programs display these seasonal components. These factors can come to the foreground in the third game of a three-game series following a team losing the first two.
It’s the bottom of the ninth with two out and two runners on. The batter bloops a single to right center field as the outfield is playing the right-handed hitter to pull the ball to the left, hence the blooper drives in the winning run of the ballgame and they eventually win the series.
This is often is called ‘timely hitting,’ but it’s not hitting at all, as it’s Championship Luck. There is a high probability that this successful hitter was known for hitting to the left side of the field, otherwise the outfielders wouldn’t have been shading to that side.
The fact that the ball was blooped behind second base, in front of the right fielder, means the ball was miss-hit, or it was the result of the hitter’s action or the location of the pitch thrown. In either case, luck placed the ball in an area that no one could reach, allowing time for the the runner to score.
A perfect example of Championship Luck occurred in the Ducks opening game of the 2014 season at Les Murakami Stadium on the University of Hawaii Campus. Howls of indignation went up from our fans after the Ducks won the opener 3-2. ”Same old team, all pitching and no hitting!” we heard. ”We couldn’t win the regional last year because we couldn’t hit!” we read. All seasonal components contributed to the victory, however our fifth component, “Championship Luck,” coupled with good coaching and player talent, helped win that first ball game also.
With the score tied 2-2, Hawaii’s starting pitcher, Cooper, had held the Ducks to just two hits through his five innings of work when their middle relief pitcher, Gleese, entered the game and allowed Oregon just one hit while pitching through another 3.2 innings.
The Ducks were at bat in the top of the ninth inning and Gleese, having given up two walks in the inning and displaying signs of fatigue, was replaced by their closer Deponte. With two outs the Ducks had a junior and seasoned hitter in Scott Heineman at the plate with two strikes.
On the bases were A.J. Balta, one of our talented freshman as a runner at first base, and Nick Catalano, a talented Duck sophomore on second and Coach George Horton had the strategy wheels a turning! Horton has a solid hitter in Heineman at the plate, but hopes he doesn’t chase a bad pitch; Coach then signals in a play which has the base runners running with the pitcher’s next delivery.
The Hawaii pitcher and catcher, being ahead of the count (no balls and two strikes) are aware that Heineman has not had a hit in four at-bats. They think he will be pressing at the plate and they may be able to give him a bad pitch to chase. The Hawaiians were correct, as Heineman chases an outside breaking pitch and swings and misses for his third strike.
It was at this instant our 5th component, Championship Luck, entered the game as the Hawaii catcher commited an error and allowed a passed ball, which rolled all the way to the backstop behind home plate. Catalano, who left second base with the pitch, rounded third base and scored the winning run easily! At the same time Heineman stood at first base, despite striking out.
Catalano scored with his talent (speed), Coach Horton handled the circumstance correctly and ”Championship Luck” found the backstop to be an unusually long distance behind home plate. Our good pitching allowed only five hits for the Hawaii ball club while their good pitching held the Ducks to just three.
Coaches will often say, “If you execute properly, you won’t be put in a circumstance where luck matters!” The only caveat to that is when two teams take the field and both teams execute, thus ‘luck’ will often determine the winner.
By games two, three, and four of the Hawaii series, the Ducks had already faced Hawaii’s best pitching and consequently the Oregon bats were able to come alive. The Ducks finished the series with four wins and no losses as Championship Luck, player ability and excellent coaching gave us win No. 1 plus the sweep.
Let’s watch to see if our fifth seasonal component stays with us throughout the next 55 games!
”Championship Luck,” it’s presence or lack thereof, can make or break the level of success for our elite Duck program!
See you at P.K. Park on the 25th of February at 6 PM for the Portland Pilots. It’s our Home Opener!
Until next time, Gar says, “Take two and hit deep to right!”
(Top photo by Gary Breedlove)