Has The Real Oregon Stood-Up?

April 26, 2011
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Ducks Take Two Of Three From Arizona…

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By CB360 Contributor Kris Anderson

This was the Oregon baseball team many expected to see this year- just two months later than expected.

For Oregon (21-17, 4-8 Pac-10) and the No. 23 Arizona Wildcats (24-25, 6-9 Pac-10), it was arguably the most pivotal series of the year for both teams to this point. The Ducks had failed to win a Pac-10 Conference series this season and believed that any hopes of an NCAA regional rested on the result of this weekend. The Wildcats, who had lost six of their last ten games and had lost two out of three against UCLA a week ago, thought this series would be an opportunity to get back to their winning ways.

The starting pitching for both teams highlighted the first two games of the series. With that being the case, there was little margin for error for the guys starting on the hill. In the final game of the series, it was the Oregon bats—including five freshmen in the starting lineup—that propelled the Ducks to the win, as they took two out of three from the Wildcats.

On the hill Thursday night was Kurt Heyer for Arizona, who ranks fourth in the Pac-10 in earned run average. Oregon countered with Tyler Anderson, who ranks fifth in the Pac-10 in the same category.

Anderson out-dueled Heyer by going the distance, with 9 strikeouts. He scattered three hits and allowed only two earned runs, while showing why he is a projected first round draft pick. He retired Arizona batters in order in the first three and last three innings of the game. Anderson showed tremendous confidence in his curveball, as he used that pitch to get ahead of hitters early—often throwing it for a first pitch strike.

The 6’4 junior from Las Vegas turned to the fastball to strike hitters out. Anderson found himself in a little trouble in the fourth inning after allowing a leadoff walk to Joey Rickard and then a double to Cole Frenzel that scored Rickard from first.

Solid starts for Anderson are sometimes haunted by one bad inning—such was the case in his last start at home against the Washington Huskies. Anderson pitched seven innings, but showed how costly one bad inning can be with a struggling Oregon offense. The Ducks would loose that game in extra innings.

On this night, Anderson was in ace-like form, and he only seemed to get better as the night progressed.

Heyer pitched well in his own right, but didn’t have his lights-out stuff that has made him one of the most dominant pitchers in the Pac-10 this year. He went 7 2/3 innings, while allowing three earned runs on nine hits, walked two batters and struckout four. The strike out total was lower than expected for the pitcher who ranks second in the conference in strikeouts—did I forget to mention that Anderson in third in the same category?

Heyer’s best pitch was without-a-doubt his curveball. In the eighth inning with the game tied at two and a runner at second, the Wildcats made a mound visit with thoughts of pulling Heyer from the game. He told the coach to leave him in, as he believed he would strikeout Oregon’s Tyler Kuresa in a critical situation. And he did just that—with a curveball.

Heyer’s fastball was effective against a rather weak Oregon lineup, but his location was prone to becoming inconsistent at times. His slider was used at times when hitters forgot that he had that weapon in his holster. But it was the changeup that let him down on this night. When used, it was ineffective, and he said it’s the pitch that needs the most work.

Friday night’s match up proved even more impressive than the previous nights. With scouts on hand to watch Oregon junior Madison Boer, the starter did not disappoint. He earned his first career complete game, while allowing two earned runs on six hits and struckout five.

 

Boer, who ranks eighth in the Pac-10 in earned run average, got ahead of hitters early and often. He threw first-pitch strikes to more than 18 batters that he faced. Boer was not weary of the Arizona hitters who crowded the plate. He used his fastball to pound the inside part of the plate and generated a lot of balls off the handle. Once ahead of hitters, Boer went to his slider to expand the zone. But on this night, one mistake could mean all the difference, and that was the case when Arizona left fielder Johnny Field was at the plate. Field led off the seventh inning with a home run to take a one run lead—it would prove to be the game-winning run. Boer showed his maturity by striking out the next two batters and didn’t allow a hit the rest of the way.

That one mistake was all it took for Arizona to escape with a 2-1 victory.

As good as Boer was, Kyle Simon was just a little better. Like Boer, Simon went the distance and scattered three hits, allowed one earned run and struck out five—and he did it on only 94 pitches. He took advantage of the overly aggressive Oregon hitters by challenging them early in the count. Simon used that aggressiveness to induce many ground balls. In fact, the Ducks were only retired four times on fly balls.

Emerging as the offensive MVP for the Ducks is second baseman Danny Pulfer. He has established himself as a leader off the field, as well as at the top of the Ducks’ order. Pulfer has reached base safely in 24 consecutive games. Against Simon, Pulfer earned two of the ducks three hits. In that game, Pulfer led off the game with a single that he earned early in the count. After the game, he said that he set the wrong tone for the rest of the hitters by being overly aggressive in his first at-bat.

He’s the only player I’ve ever heard apologize for a hit—but the more I talk to him, the more I learn that’s just the kind of guy he is. He is also one of the best base runners in the Pac-10—if not the country. Pulfer is a perfect fit for Oregon head coach George Horton’s small-ball and aggressive base running style of play.

On the other side of the diamond, Arizona’s leadoff hitter Joey Rickard—leading the Pac-10 with a .409 batting average entering the series—struggled at times with Oregon’s stellar pitching. While reaching base five times in 13 at-bats, it was not one of his better series’ at the plate. No better was that seen than during Thursday nights game, when with a runner on first with one out in a tie game, Anderson got the better of Rickard, getting him to hit into a 6-4-3 double play.

By weekend’s end, the Oregon bats were just a little better than Arizona’s—who would have guessed that after looking at the numbers of both teams? It’s a testament, not only to the potential of Oregon’s young offense, but the depth of the Pac-10 conference. Oregon finds itself riding the wave of a little momentum built from recent clutch performances, while Arizona has hit the skids. For the Ducks, every series from here on is a must win. For Arizona, time will tell if they are in the midst of a slump or were merely the recent victims of the Oregon and UCLA  pitching staffs.

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