Oregon baseball: Little mistakes lead to losses against Cal State Fullerton

After starting the 2014 season a perfect 8-0, the Oregon baseball team faced its first true test in fifth-ranked Cal State Fullerton and didn’t pass, getting swept in the three-game series.

At first glance, it may appear that this year’s Ducks can’t compete with the top dogs of college baseball. With the loss of several key players to the pros and injury, Oregon’s roster is much more inexperienced than in years past and, so far, the major differences have been fundamentals and overall knowledge of the game.

“It’s a mixed bag of youth and inexperience,” head coach George Horton said following Sunday’s loss. “If you’re going to play championship baseball, it’s one inning or one thing every single game that usually determines win or lose.”

In the series against Fullerton, Oregon left 16 runners on base and drew just four walks against 23 strikeouts. For a team with little power, getting on base and executing is a major key to success.

“I thought we had quality at-bats, we just didn’t come through in the end, yesterday and today,” outfielder Kyle Garlick said. “They had more timely hitting than us this series. I think that’s what we lacked.”

However, it isn’t time to press the panic button. Oregon visited Cal State Fullerton last season and lost two of three before winning five of their next six series.

The Ducks will have ample opportunities to prove themselves against tough opponents. Their schedule includes five games against No. 4 Oregon State and three against No. 19 UCLA. The Pac-12 is widely considered one of the best baseball conferences in the nation and features teams like USC, Stanford, Arizona and Arizona State that are perennially successful.

“These last two games, we played well enough to win,” second baseman Aaron Payne said. “A couple breaks here and there and it could go different. We’re right there.”

Another issue for the Ducks this season has been defense. Horton’s teams have prided themselves on pitching, defense and small ball, all of which have been there for Oregon this season except the leather.

“If we’re worthy enough to get into the payoffs you can’t give good teams free base runners,” Horton said. “We made some mental mistakes today. Porter Clayton gets a comebacker, could have got a double play ball, goes to the wrong base.”

Oregon has committed 14 errors through 11 games (four multi-error games, three error-less games). While they haven’t come back to bite the Ducks yet, it’s something to keep an eye on going forward.

“We even caught ourselves doing some not great stuff in Hawaii and got away with it but we didn’t brush it under the rug,” Horton said. “We have our standards of playing the game … The great news in Hawaii is we were able to overcome that. We can’t do that against the likes of Cal State Fullerton.”

How will Oregon rebound after getting swept for the first time since May of 2012? We’ll find out on Tuesday as the Ducks play a quick two-game turnaround series against Seattle.

Horton quoted Vince Lombardi in saying how he expected his team to respond.

“The real glory is getting knocked to your knees and then coming back and we got knocked to our knees,” Horton said. “If I know my guys the right way, they usually respond to things and I think they’ll respond.”

Follow Madison Guernsey on Twitter @guernseymd

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