In the penultimate game of a 2017 season that will all but likely see Oregon miss the NCAA Tournament, sophomore Matt Mercer made sure to end his season on a high note. The sophomore threw a gem on the mound, leading the Ducks to a 2-1 win in the second of a three-game series against UCLA.
Mercer threw 7 1/3 innings, allowing no earned runs, striking out six and allowing just three hits. The Ducks needed every bit of his greatness to edge by the Bruins on Friday night.
“The fastball early and fastball away [was working well],” said Mercer. “When I got behind, I worked back to even counts.”
Mercer retired the first ten batters he faced, with the Bruins first hit coming from a dribbler off the bat of Daniel Amaral down the third base line. His six strikeouts is one of his career high of seven, which came on Feb. 25 versus Seton Hall.
Mercers A-game was needed at the start of the game with the Ducks offense not mustering any runs against the Bruins Jake Bird through the first four innings.
“We needed Mercer to have a big effort,” head coach George Horton said. “We couldn’t get that extend the lead type of hit.”
That changed in the bottom of the fifth when Morgan McCullough drove home A.J. Balta with a two-out single for the game’s first run, giving the Ducks a 1-0 lead. Balta’s run ended a dry spell at PK Park, where the Ducks offense had not scored a run in over 32 innings, dating back to May 12 against Oregon State.
Spencer Steer gave the Ducks some breathing room in the bottom of the seventh inning. Steer hit a hard shot up the middle that Bruins shortstop Ryan Kriedler was able to stop. Kyle Kasser — running from second — just beat the throw home from Chase Strumpf to give the Ducks its second run of the game and a 2-0 lead.
Of note, Kasser’s single in the seventh extended his hitting streak to 14 games, which ties the second-longest streak in program history.
That insurance turned out to be crucial for the Ducks, as Mercer ran into trouble in the eighth inning. After issuing back-to-back walks with one out, Mercer’s night, and season, came to a close.
Things got even hairier for Kenyon Yovan — who came in to relieve Mercer — when an errant throw down the third-base line from Matthew Dyer gave the Bruins their first run of the game to make it 2-1. With runners on second and third and one out, Yovan caused a pop-out before striking out Brett Stephens to escape the jam with the lead still intact.
“Mercer worked his tail off for us the whole game,” Yovan said. “I wanted to go in there and make sure [the outcome] would stay the same.”
Yovan came back out for a stress-free, 1-2-3 ninth inning to give the Ducks the 2-1 win. They will have the chance to end a shaky season with a win over the Bruins on Saturday.
“We set our sights on trying to win this series,” Horton said. “I’d like the guys to get this against a playoff worthy team in UCLA.”
Follow Cole Kundich on Twitter @CKundich