Ducks christen ballpark with decisive win

Jack Hunter

With PK Park finally open for baseball, the smell of change is in the air for the Oregon baseball team.

Yet a new stadium is not the only thing different about this season. Far from it, in fact.

The Ducks won in impressive fashion against Washington in their home opener on Tuesday. A year ago, they may have let that win go to their heads and lost focus. Now, the players know better.

“We didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into (last year),” sophomore second baseman Danny Pulfer said. “We thought we had one win and we were on top of the world. It’s important for us not to get complacent.”

Indeed, the team has already implemented that approach in the early going this year.

“After the 3-1 start, we didn’t have that same feeling,” Pulfer said. “It wasn’t, ‘We’re on top of the world, we can do this.’ It was more focused.”

That focus was on full display against the Huskies, particularly at the plate. Whereas last year Oregon struggled to put together patient at-bats, on Tuesday the Ducks were far more consistent and scored four runs in the first inning. Not only did the team have an early lead, but it also gave sophomore starting pitcher Alex Keudell more room to breathe.

“I think that got everybody in the right mood,” head coach George Horton said. “I think the trust from the pitchers now that we’re going to get some runs on a normal basis is a big thing … they’re not trying too hard and nibbling (the plate) all the time.”

With a four-run cushion in hand, Keudell was able to pitch comfortably though six and two-thirds innings. He struck out six and walked three, a far cry from his freshman year when he lasted just four innings against the Huskies.

“They’re probably the same team as last year,” Keudell said. “They still swung the bat pretty well, but I thought I hit my spots well and controlled tempo.”

Washington starter Ben Guidos was also a familiar face for the Ducks. The junior was dominant against Oregon last year, baffling hitters with a devastating changeup. The new-look Ducks would have none of that this time around.

“I was happy with the overall at-bats and putting the ball into play and the bunts,” Horton said.

For some of the Ducks, the matchup was personal.

“He had our number,” Pulfer said. “Some guy on our team played with him over the summer; he was saying how he carved us all up, and I think we just had a little grudge on our shoulder, and we weren’t going to let that happen again.”

It is also an encouraging win for the rest of the season. Oregon still has to face the Huskies in Pacific-10 play, and the confidence of winning last night will help.

“It’s encouraging that we are going to see them in league,” sophomore shortstop KC Serna said. “We have a feel for them now.”

Serna has also embraced a new role as the leadoff hitter for the Ducks. Last year, he hit mainly in the third spot in the lineup, but he says he loves being the first man up.

“I love it,” Serna said. “You get to see the first pitch of the game. No matter if I get out or get on base, I’m always pumped to go back and tell my teammates what I saw and what I saw the rest of the game.”

In the end, the team was happy to start the PK Park era with a solid victory. Horton came away particularly impressed with the park’s new look.

“What a great facility, great venue,” Horton said. “The rain held out long enough, and (we) had a great night.”

“It’s always good to get the first win in the first home game,” Serna said. “A lot of fun today.”

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