Though the Ducks offense sputtered in the early going, it was their defense that ultimately led to their downfall, committing an uncharacteristic three errors that led to five unearned runs.
“We got some breaks today,” Golden Flashes head coach Scott Stricklin said. “Oregon made a couple missed plays that certainly helped us out. When you win 21 games in a row, you need some luck and you need some things to fall your way.” .
The killer one came in the eighth inning when right fielder Aaron Jones misplayed a fly ball and it scooted under his glove and rolled to the wall, allowing T.J. Sutton and Sawyer Polen to score and extend Kent State’s lead to 7-4.
“Our inability to do something that we’ve done and extremely good job on all year, get outs on out balls, came back to haunt us,” Ducks head coach George Horton said. .
The Ducks had a rally going in the ninth inning and scored two runs to cut the deficit to one. Shortstop J.J. Altobelli, already with a RBI, came up with the bases loaded and lined a pitch from Golden Flashes reliever Josh Pierce into center field, but Evan Campbell saved the day with a running catch to end the game.
“I hit it as good as I could,” Altobelli said. “He just made a good play on it.”
Earlier in the game, the Ducks had fought back from a 5-1 deficit after Alex Keudell, the Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year, gave up five runs between the third and fifth innings, aided by two errors. Keudell committed one of them, throwing the ball wide of first base on a bunt attempt by David Lyon in the third inning that allowed Jimmy Rider to score from first base to put Kent State up 2-0.
“I don’t remember the last time I made an error on a fielding play,” Keudell said. “I put the blame on myself, I put my team in a bad situation.”
Keudell (11-5) eventually settled in, going 7 1/3 innings with four strikeouts and no walks, but took the loss.
Meanwhile, Golden Flashes left-hander David Starn (11-3) showcased the effectiveness that earned him Mid-Atlantic Conference Pitcher of the Year honors this season. He pitched 6 1/3 innings with five strikeouts and seven walks, and despite his control issues, the former walk-on held the Ducks hitless into the fifth inning until Ryon Healy registered a single.
Oregon had to rely on Starn’s lack of control to get runners on base early on. But, as wild as Starn was, he was able to get the big out when needed, relying on a filthy breaking ball that had Ducks batters guessing all night.
The Ducks had a chance to make a dent in the fourth inning trailing by two runs when they loaded the bases on three walks. With two outs, Aaron Payne was hit by a pitch on a 2-2 count, but home plate umpire Chris Coskey said that Payne leaned into the pitch and ultimately ruled it a ball. Payne then looked at strike three to end the inning.
Kent State immediately posted two runs in the next inning. Ducks center fielder Vernell Warren dropped a fly ball by Campbell in center field to start and that led to a Jimmy Rider RBI double. Sutton scored Rider with a sac fly later in the inning to give the Golden Flashes a four-run cushion.
“They did a much better job of controlling themselves offensively,” Horton said.
The Ducks started to hack away at the deficit after that, but couldn’t ever complete the comeback. Kyle Garlick scored Jones with a sac fly to right field in the fifth inning and Altobelli plated Ryan Hambright with a two-out single in the sixth inning.
Oregon got a lucky break when Jones’ fly ball to lead off the seventh inning somehow landed in between three Kent State players and resulted in a double. Two batters later, Brett Thomas knocked him in with a single that ended up chasing Starn.
But, in the end, the Ducks shot themselves in the foot one too many times and couldn’t take advantage of the 11 walks that were given to them.
“I don’t recall ever losing a game where the opposition walked us 11 times,” Horton said.
They now face elimination on Sunday, and must win two straight games if they want their season to continue. Freshman Jake Reed, who wrapped up the regional with a dominant performance against Austin Peay last weekend, will be tasked with beating a team that hasn’t lost since Apr. 25.
“It’s win or season’s over for us now,” Altobelli said. .
The Ducks and Golden Flashes play Game 2 on Sunday at 7 p.m. Kent State will be the home team.
GAME NOTES –
Attendance at PK Park was 4,177.
The Ducks left 12 men on base to the Golden Flashes five.
Keudell threw 96 pitches with 67 going for strikes. Starn threw 115 pitches with 67 going for strikes.
The Golden Flashes, donned in throwback jerseys reminiscent of a 1940’s ball club.
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