Cole Irvin was solid on Friday night, David Peterson was great Saturday, but Josh Graham was unbelievable on Sunday afternoon, leading the Ducks to a 4-3 victory over No. 2 UCLA with a nine-inning, 11K performance. Graham was the first pitcher this season to work into the ninth for Oregon, and the first pitcher since Matt Crook to throw 11Ks in an outing, but he was unable to come away with the win as the Ducks had to play extra innings for the second game in a row.
Back to back singles helped the Ducks take an early lead Sunday afternoon. Saturday night’s hero — Phil Craig-St. Louis started things off in the second by pushing a bunt past the pitcher for an infield single, and Scott Heineman followed by slapping a single to right to put two runners on with no outs.
Brandon Cuddy worked the count full before laying down a sacrifice bunt, putting the go ahead run on third and pushing Heineman into scoring position. Daniel Patzlaff hit a hard grounder to short, causing Heineman to be thrown out at third, but scored Craig-St. Louis putting the Ducks up 1-0.
Kevin Kramer jumped on Graham to lead off the fourth, lifting the first pitch of the inning over the right field fence for a solo home run, tying the game at 1-1.
Heineman answered back with a homer of his own in the bottom half of the inning, blasting a solo-shot over the left-centerfield wall, barely missing the scoreboard and giving the lead back to the Ducks, 2-1.
After five open-and-shut innings, the wheels started to come off in the sixth for Graham who issued back-to-back walks and a single, loading the bases with no outs.
Ty Moore hit a weak grounder that Shaun Chase fielded easily, forcing Brett Stephens out at home for the first out of the inning. Luke Persico then smacked a two-RBI single to left, shifting the momentum back in favor of the Bruins, giving them a 3-2 lead. Graham managed to work his way out of the jam, picking up his seventh and eighth strikeouts of the day, limiting the damage to just two runs.
The Ducks didn’t stay down for long, as Jakob Goldfarb pinch hit for J.B. Bryant in the sixth, and put the first pitch he saw into right field for a one-out single. Craig-St. Louis drew a walk on four straight pitches, putting runners on first and second with two out for Heineman. He came up big for the second time in the game, ripping a double down the third-base line to score Goldfarb, tying the game at 3-3.
Heineman was a huge factor in all three games this series, batting .727 (8-11) with three RBI, three runs scored and two homers. He credited assistant coach Mark Wasikowski helping him translate his swing in batting practice over to live games, not waiting for a single pitch but, “having the courage to walk up to the plate and take it like a ‘BP’ round.” “If you see a pitch you like, just get after it” he said.
Following the rocky sixth inning, Graham looked better than ever, retiring the next nine batters he faced, striking out a batter per inning to bring his total on the day to 11. Head coach George Horton had high praise for the junior after the game, saying that, “Josh Graham doesn’t surprise me, [with] his mentality he rose to the occasion.”
Despite lead-off singles in the eighth and ninth innings, the Ducks couldn’t break the tie, forcing the second extra-inning game in as many days.
Stephen Nogosek made his third straight appearance on the mound, bouncing back from rough outings earlier in the weekend. He needed just five pitches to put the Bruins away in the tenth. A three-pitch strikeout of Kort Peterson, and two easy fly-ball outs, got Nogosek through a quick half inning.
UCLA had Oregon backed up against a wall in the eleventh, as they used two hit batters and a walk to load the bases with two outs before Garrett Cleavinger was called in for the third day in a row. In a similar situation on Friday night, Cleavinger walked home the winning run. He returned to form on Sunday, inducing a Sean Bouchard to ground out to end the bases-loaded threat.
Heineman led off the bottom of the final inning, working a 12-pitch at bat, eventually flying out to right. Bolstered by his effort, Brandon Cuddy battled with Jake Bird, and ripped a single into right field to start an Oregon rally. Spencer Smith was used as a pinch-runner for Cuddy and was moved into scoring position, courtesy of an errant pick-off throw.
Tim Susnara — who didn’t receive the start in favor of Chase on Senior Day — had his biggest hit of the year, lofting a fastball into centerfield that dropped in the middle of three UCLA defenders, scoring Spencer from second. The win likely securing a playoff berth for the Ducks and handing the Bruins their first series loss of the season.
Oregon’s postseason fate will be determined Monday morning when the selection committee announces all 64 teams that will be in contention for a College World Series title. The Ducks put together a phenomenal month of May to conclude regular season play, but their fate now rests solely in the hands of the committee.
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