Rally Comes Up Short, Ducks Fall 5-4

photo courtesy - Gary Breedlove
photo courtesy – Gary Breedlove

If any game resembles the entire season for the Ducks it would be this one.

Oregon got off to a slow start, found itself down 5-0 only to have a rally come up short in the end. Arizona managed to hold on to a 5-4 win over the Ducks to salvage one game of the weekend series. It was a bigger loss for Oregon than it was a big win for the Wildcats.

Arizona is almost a sure bet to make the tourney with a 33-20 overall record, but the Ducks are firmly planted on the bubble and unfortunately for them, it’ll most likely pop. Oregon is 14-13 in league play, but just 28-23 overall with four games remaining.

Knowing they pretty much had to win out in order to go to the NCAA tournament, the Ducks played great in the first two games. But Arizona starter Nathan Bannister (8-2) proved to be too much for the Oregon offense.

The senior pitched 8 2/3 innings, giving up four runs on seven hits and striking out five. He was brilliant through seven shutout innings before the Ducks broke through in the eighth with one and then put a major scare into the Wildcats before the third out was recorded in the ninth.

Oregon made it 5-1 in the eighth on Kyle Kasser’s RBI grounder. Although the Ducks did score and Bannister was tiring, first-year coach Jay Johnson decided to leave in his starter. That decision almost cost the ‘Cats the game.

The Ducks took advantage of a spent Bannister in the ninth. With two outs and one on, Oregon got back-to-back singles from Phil Craig-St. Louis and Matt Eureste to make it 5-2. That was enough for Johnson as he pulled Bannister, but the Ducks were far from done.

Nick Catalano kept the rally alive with a single to right and Austin Grebeck smacked a double to right to make it 5-4 and put runners on second and third. With the potential game-tying run 90 feet away and the potential game-winner on second, it was all up to Kasser. The Oregon infielder hit a chopper in the middle of the diamond that was deflected by pitcher Rio Gomez to the second baseman who proceeded to toss out the speedy Kasser to end the game.

While Bannister was cruising for Arizona on the mound, Oregon’s Matt Mercer had his struggles. He has pitched well of late and just recently became the Sunday starter, but Mercer just didn’t have his good stuff on this day.

He wasn’t backed up by his defense, however.

The Ducks committed three errors behind Mercer and all three miscues led directly to runs and extended innings. Mercer gave up five runs, just two earned, six hits and six strikeouts in five innings. Cole Stringer threw three innings out of the bullpen, which allowed the Duck offense a chance to hit themselves back into the contest and they almost did.

St. Mary’s comes to PK Park on Monday for the last home game of the 2016 season before the Ducks end the Pac-12 season at Stanford this weekend. Whether that will also be the end of the entire season remains to be seen.

~ Don Smalley