On the road again: Ducks trip south
It’s been a long week for the Oregon baseball team.
In seven days, the team has played six games and traveled more than 4,000 miles round trip. They’ve gone 2-4 over the span, losing three of four games to Hawaii, followed by a split with Washington on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Despite all of this, the team isn’t tired and the Ducks are ready to hit the road again, this time heading 645 miles south to Fresno, Calif. They will play the Fresno State Bulldogs in a rematch of last year’s home-opening series in Eugene, which the Ducks won two games to one.
“I don’t feel too tired,” sophomore shortstop Danny Pulfer said. “Coach (Jim) Radcliffe and the coaches have put us through a lot in the fall. We got prepared for this, and I feel like the team has held up their end and we are a lot more fit than we were last year.”
It’s true that baseball teams prepare for the months spent traveling and the weeks where maybe only one day is spent in rest. For the Ducks, the team left Thursday morning for Fresno and practiced last night. Today, they are scheduled to start at 6:05 p.m., with sophomore Tyler Anderson taking the mound for Oregon.
Oregon is in a precarious situation heading into this weekend’s four-game series. After a 3-1 start to the season, the team has fallen off the pace. They’ve struggled to get runners across when it matters most, and head coach George Horton has tried to teach them a baseball season isn’t a sprint — it’s a marathon.
“Maybe they’ll trust me more when I tell them,” Horton said. “Before we went to Hawaii one of the polls had us in the top 25, and I’ve been in that situation before, and if you get content with that, teams start making a run at you … the maturity part of it is when you’re ranked or beat a team, you have the responsibility to improve.
“Even last year’s team when we had some early success it started catching up with us,” Horton continued. “You have to keep working it.”
Horton joked that his team is really good at “first” games, and maybe he should give a speech saying every game is the first of something. Oregon had a memorable win over Cal State Fullerton to start the season and won in the first game at completed PK Park, but with any young team, sustaining it is the key.
“That was the one thing Coach really wanted to put emphasis on,” Pulfer said. “We were really good at firsts; first home win, first series win. Then the same thing this year. First win, first home win. Let’s just play every game like it’s the first of something.”
Oregon’s first home series did prove to be beneficial for a few reasons. Junior transfer Marcus Piazzisi hit his first home run of the season, and both Horton and Piazzisi hope that it will be the spark that turns his hitting slump around. As of Thursday, Piazzisi’s batting average is below the Mendoza line at .103, something he spoke to after Wednesday’s 5-3 loss to the Huskies.
“At Cal State Fullerton I couldn’t find the hole,” Piazzisi said. “I had some nice drives. In a couple of other games, the wind was knocking the balls down, and I had a lot of stuff down the line … but I couldn’t find the hole. I’m trying to play some defense and try and contribute.”
“I had a talk with him because he got off to a slow start,” Horton added. “I had been platooning him, which we hadn’t been doing that earlier. I said, hey look, whatever happens I just want you to be Marcus Piazzisi.”
Piazzisi’s power is something Horton hopes to see more of in the coming weeks, as big power hitter Stephen Kaupang is out with an upper leg bruise. Additionally, freshman hitter Jack Marder has had a hard time getting on track.
“Some of our big poppers like Kaupang have been hurt; maybe he’ll get healthy and he can give us a three-run power,” Horton said. “The power will develop. We have more gap power.”
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