With one out remaining in the third inning, Utah’s Rykker Tom hit a line drive right in the gap between the left and center fielders. As Dashawn Kerisey Jr. rounded the bases and dug for home, second baseman Kyle Kasser threw the ball directly into the waiting glove of catcher Ray Soderman to apply the tag at home and keep the Ducks 1-0 lead.
Utah (13-34, 7-17 Pac-12) would eventually tie the game, but the play exemplified the solid defense Oregon (23-24, 9-13 in Pac-12) played during the game. It took the Ducks a while to capitalize on their opportunities, but they finally did with explosive seventh and eight innings.
After RBI singles from Kenyon Yovan and Jonny DeLuca, Gabe Matthews hit a triple into deep right field. The ball bounced off the wall and rolled away from the Utah centerfielder, allowing DeLuca and Taylor Travess to score. Matthews was one home run shy of hitting the cycle.
“It’s good to swing it well,” Matthews said. “We’ve been working hard the last couple weeks. … And it’s payed of these last couple games.”
Oregon’s starting pitcher Matt Mercer threw a career high 10 strikeouts in seven innings, but it took him some time to get some consistency in the game. He walked two consecutive batters with two outs in the first, but he was able to put the inning away by getting Wade Gullen to strikeout looking. He struck out the side in the top of the fifth inning.
“I thought Mercer was as good as he’s been for as long as I can remember quite frankly,” coach George Horton said.
Mercer, now 5-5 on the season, was able to relax after Oregon broke away in the seventh inning.
“I was able to keep them off balance with four pitches,” Mercer said. “I started flipping my fastball for a strike and kept them guessing the rest of the game.”
The Ducks were the first team to put a run on the board in the first inning. Jakob Goldfarb singled to center field, then reached second on a fielder’s choice. Spencer Steer worked the count full and walked. Yovan hit a sacrifice fly into centerfield to score Goldfarb from third base for the first score of the game.
Oregon had a big opportunity to put more runs on the board in the third inning, but couldn’t capitalize on the early hits. Kasser doubled down the left field line and Steer drew another walk, but a strikeout and a pop-fly got Utah out of the inning.
In the sixth inning, Oregon had multiple opportunities to go up big again. Matthews nearly hit a fly ball deep into right field that was caught on the warning track. The very next play, DeLuca stole second and advanced to third after the catcher threw the ball in the dirt behind DeLuca. That set up Soderman, who hit a double down the third base side to bring in DeLuca to break the tie.
The break between the seventh and eighth innings wasn’t long enough for the Oregon bats to cool down. Both Steer and Matthews had RBI doubles. The Ducks loaded the bases with two outs, and Jason Drees doubled into right-center, scoring two more.
“It got contagious in a positive way,” Horton said.
Follow August Howell on Twitter @howell_august