EUGENE – For the second straight year, Oregon won its home opener in dramatic fashion Thursday, as the Ducks rallied for four runs in the bottom of the ninth at PK Park to beat Seattle, 4-3.
A potential game-ending double-play ball wasn’t fielded cleanly, allowing Tanner Smith to reach first and load the bases with one out. Pinch hitter Sam Olsson followed with an RBI single to short right that fell between the second baseman and the outfielder, Sam Novitske hit a hot shot to third base that caromed into short left field and scored two more, and Jack Scanlon followed with a sacrifice fly to short right that brought pinch runner RJ Gordon home with the winning run.
The year before, Oregon opened its home schedule by scoring twice in the eighth to come back from a 2-0 deficit to Nevada, then won it in the ninth on a bases-loaded single by Kenyon Yovan.
Thursday’s game was supposed to kick off the second series of this season. But COVID-19 protocols wiped out Oregon’s scheduled opening series the week before, making Thursday’s game the Ducks’ first since March 8, 2020, before the pandemic cancelled the remainder of last season.
“These kids have gone through a ton,” UO coach Mark Wasikowski said. “For them to have some joy for a night is worth an awful lot.”
How It Happened: Nico Tellache got the start for the Ducks and faced the minimum three times in five innings, with help from two double plays. He allowed a triple to lead off the game, and though that runner was cut down at the plate on a fielder’s choice, an RBI double with two outs gave Seattle the early lead.
In the fourth, the Redhawks opened with a single just past diving second baseman Gavin Grant and followed with a bloop single behind third base. Tellache struck out the next hitter but then caught too much of the plate, and a double to deep center made it 3-0.
The Ducks, meanwhile, were stinging the ball but unable to capitalize. They loaded the bases in the first and stranded two more in the second. Zavala singled to lead off the fifth and stole second but made it no farther, and the Ducks left a runner stranded at second to end the seventh and eighth as well.
But Oregon’s bullpen kept Seattle from adding more insurance. And their luck at the plate turned in the ninth, with fewer line drives but solid contact that put pressure on Seattle’s defense.
“We were putting together good at-bats all day,” Zavala said. “There was a lot of hard-hit balls that didn’t fall in. The hitters saw that, and it was just a matter of time.”
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At The Plate: Zavala made his first career start in the leadoff spot and looked right at home, reaching five times on three singles and two walks. He singled to lead off the ninth and scored on Olsson’s pinch hit. Novitske also had three hits for Oregon on the night.
Until that single by Olsson, the Ducks were 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position. But they ended the game by coming through three straight times in that situation.
“It was good to finally get something rolling, and at the right time,” Zavala said.
On The Mound: A gritty effort by Tellache and clutch pitching out of the bullpen set the stage for the comeback. Tellache made his first career start and threw a career-high five innings, suffering some tough luck while allowing three runs. He struck out the side in the second, missing an immaculate inning by one pitch.
The Ducks would strike out the side out two more times on the night, with Christian Ciuffetelli pitching a 1-2-3 eighth inning and Decker Stedman doing so in the ninth. Ciuffetelli came on in the seventh and pitched around a one-out triple.
Freshman Isaac Ayon made his debut in the sixth and allowed a hit and a walk before settling in. The Redhawks loaded the bases with a two-out walk, but Ayon struck out the next batter on a breaking ball to end the inning.
Beyond The Box Score: Oregon improved to 23-2-1 all-time against Seattle. … The Ducks are 8-0 at home since Wasikowski took over as head coach. … Freshman Robby Ashford, who doubles as a quarterback on the UO football team, entered as a defensive replacement in center field in the seventh inning and later grounded out in his first career at-bat.
Up Next: The Ducks host the Redhawks again Friday at 4 p.m.