Ducks Sputtering Despite High Preseason Ranking…
By CB360 Contributor Kris Anderson
For two nights in a row the Oregon Ducks gave themselves a chance to win in the first nine innings of each game against the Washington Huskies. In extra innings, they did not.
The eventual game winning runs in both games for the visiting Huskies (9-20, 2-4 Pac-10) reached on errors—and the Oregon bats failed to provide support.
In Friday’s 14-inning, four-and-a-half-hour marathon, Oregon (15-14, 1-5 Pac-10) left five runners on base in extra innings and 11 for the game.
In the 14th, Huskies third baseman Troy Scott reached on a throwing error by K.C. Serna—adding to his team-high fifth error of the season—before scoring on a Ty Afenir single up the middle. Washington would go on to escape with a 4-3 win.
On Saturday night, Oregon first baseman Shawn Peterson booted a 10th inning ground ball off the bat of right fielder Chase Anselment. “He’s not really known for his defense,” Oregon head coach George Horton said. “But he’s, out of the first baseman, probably been the most functional guy for us. He’s not a great athlete and he wasn’t quick enough. It didn’t seem like a very tough play to me.” The Huskies would plate two more unearned runs that inning.
In the bottom half of the 10th, Serna came to the plate as the Ducks final opportunity of the inning. It was an at-bat that Serna would rather soon forget. On a 0-2 count, Serna was called out on strikes on an off-speed pitch from RP Jeff Brigham.
This has been a season that Serna would rather soon forget. After leading the Ducks in batting average (.348) in 2010, Serna is struggling to find a rhythm at the plate, batting .190 in 22 games played.
Following Saturday’s game, the Ducks had only scored six runs in five Pac-10 games.
Infielder Jack Marder is another player caught in the midst of a season-long slump. He is batting just .186. “KC (Serna) and Marder, two of what we think are our better players, are not having good years,” Horton said. “You stick with guys, and they’ve earned the right to stick with them. We’ll stick with them as long as they deserve to be stuck with.”
These slumps are certainly not due to a lack of effort. Following Saturday nights loss, pitcher Scott McGough, Serna and Marder were on the field an hour after the game ended, working on defensive situations that occurred earlier that night.
The story of the Oregon bats can be told through the numbers of their one through three hitters. Serna, second baseman Danny Pulfer and freshman Stefan Sabol went a combined 4-for-24 with one run and no RBI’s in the first two games of the series.
When the top of the lineup fails to reach base, that doesn’t leave anyone for the rest of the lineup to drive in. And if the top of the order isn’t hitting, they won’t drive in the runners that reach base in front of them.
The speculation seems to be that players are trying too hard to be “perfect,”—according to Oregon ace Tyler Anderson.“Honestly, were suppose to stay off the scoreboard and not worry about it regardless, because we can’t control it,” Anderson said. “But I found myself, and I know some other guys did as well, whether it was offense or defense, just trying to be perfect.“When you try and be perfect it just makes you tense up. That’s when you turn a zero or one run inning into three runs and it makes it hard to play that way.”
Anderson said that is what happened in his start on Friday when he allowed three runs in the fourth inning.
On Sunday, Oregon was facing a possible sweep. Before the game, players arrived to the park earlier than normal to get a few extra swings and for some added work in the field.
The team’s mindset before the game: relax.
It paid off. The Ducks’ bats plated their fourth highest run total of they season in a 9-0 victory. Alex Keudell, starting on the mound for his second straight Sunday because of a back injury to Christian Jones, pitched eight shutout innings while allowing just three hits and striking out six.
Leading the way at the plate were the one and two hitters for the Ducks. Serna went 1-for-2 with two RBI’s and two runs scored. Pulfer went 3-for-5 with four RBI’s.
Senior Shawn Peterson hit his first home run of his career off of Austin Voth.
Next weekend the Ducks fly south to face USC. The Ducks will continue to lean on the one constant they’ve had throughout the year—pitching. Anderson pitched seven innings, giving up three runs on four strikeouts on Friday. Junior Madison Boer had a career high nine strikeouts and didn’t allow a run in his first career complete game.
The Ducks still believe that regionals is a possibility this year—and they are a team willing to put in the extra hours to turn the season around. An hour after Sunday’s blowout victory, Marder was on the field taking batting practice.