The Oregon baseball team got back on track last weekend after suffering a sweep to UCLA the previous week. The Ducks won three out of four against Ball State at PK Park, overcoming some pitching woes and a brief offensive lapse on Saturday.
“I thought we played extremely hard,” head coach Mark Wasikowski said. “I thought we played well. I like where we stand right now. ”
The series certainly had its ups and downs. After winning 13-7 Friday night, the Ducks lost in brutal fashion in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader, falling 3-2. It was their fourth one-run loss in a five-game span.
They got off to a rough start in the nightcap as well. Jace Stoffal, making his first start as a Duck, gave up three runs in the first inning. However, Oregon’s bats were able to wake up and eventually came away with a 10-4 victory. That resilience carried into Sunday, when they won 7-6 on a dramatic walk-off single by Tyler Ganus.
“For us to be able to kinda hang in there like we have and still continue to play very well and position ourselves where we are, I’m happy with what the done done,” Wasikowski said. “It’s exciting to go back to the field with them every day because these kids want to play, and they want to work.”
The Ducks’ hottest hitter lately has been outfielder Anthony Hall. Over the last six games, he’s gone 9-for-21 with four home runs. It’s a drastic improvement from his slow start to the season.
“He was in his own way,” Wasikowski said of Hall. “That was probably a hard thing for him to do first weekend, is go home to San Diego and play in front of his family and all his friends and everything like that. I’m sure he probably feels like he did not handle it as good as he could have. And he’s been hot for us lately. Hopefully he can have another good weekend this weekend. ”
Gavin Grant, who’d only hit two homers in his career before this season, hit his fifth blast of the year on Sunday. He’s had a surprisingly great season, hitting .311 with a .421 OBP and .533 slugging percentage. Ganus’ walk-off was also somewhat of a surprise, as the backup utility player wasn’t even sure he was going to make the team in the fall.
“They’ve really created a culture here of guys that really want to work hard, and appreciate the opportunities they have here,” Wasikowski said. “I just love being around them because those guys are turning themselves into very, very good baseball players, and the scouts are noticing.”
Unlike last year, when the Ducks experimented with many different batting orders, Oregon has been going with essentially the same lineup every game. The only thing that usually changes is whether Jack Scanlon or Josiah Cromwick starts at catcher, though often one will sub in for the other late in games.
“The guys have earned it,” Wasikowski said of their consistent lineups. “They’ve really hit well. And so as they continue to hit well, we’ll stay as consistent as we possibly can. Don’t really want to rock the boat with these guys so much. ”
The lineup, which ranks No. 18 in the nation in runs scored, is about to get even better. Drew Cowley was their best hitter before getting injured on March 11, and on Monday he was officially cleared to play. Wasikowski said he’ll be traveling with the team and he’s expected to return this weekend.
In other injury news, right-handed starter Adam Maier will miss the rest of the season after only making three starts. While it’s a tough blow for a team that has struggled to find consistent starting pitching, the silver lining is that he won’t have to undergo Tommy John surgery and should be back next year.
“It was good news,” Wasikowski said. “We kinda knew that Adam probably wasn’t gonna be pitching for us this year, and to get the news that we did was good news. We’re excited. He’ll be back with us for next season. That’s a big positive. “
Wasikowski said Maier could have rushed through his rehab, which would have put himself at even greater risk. Instead, they’re going to take it slowly with him and gear him up for next year.
For this upcoming series, which starts Thursday due to Easter, the Ducks will once again be going with RJ Gordon and Isaac Ayon as their top two starters. Stoffal will start the third game again as well, as the coaching staff looks to gradually stretch his innings out. He went just one inning in his Oregon debut.
Gordon and Ayon have both made strides as they settle into starting roles, but they still have ERAs above five. Ayon had one of his best outings of the season in Saturday’s 3-2 loss, as he did not allow a run until Kolby Somers gave up one of his inherited baserunners.
“I’d like to get that pitching rotation, continue to get that settled in to where those guys know they’re starters, and they can continue to develop,” Wasikowski said. “We’ve seen a lot of progress there, and that’s good. The more progress we can see down the home stretch, that’s gonna be important to try to win a league championship. ”
This weekend, Oregon (21-11) will take on Washington (15-15), one of the weaker teams in the Pac-12. First pitch is slated for 7:05 pm in Seattle on Thursday.
“We’re gonna need to neutralize power,” Wasikowksi said. “They’ve got one guy [Will Simpson] that got a real power bat that had a really good day yesterday… They look like they have some very good arms that can throw hard, and it’s probably gonna require us to be short to the fastball this weekend. ”