Oregon entered Thursday night with hopes of starting a late-season winning streak that could resuscitate its postseason hopes.
The Ducks picked the wrong team to try to start it against.
Oregon fell to the No. 1 Oregon State Beavers 6-1 at PK Park to drop to 9-13 in Pac-12 play and 26-18 on the year. The Ducks hung tight with a Beaver team that has topped the collegiate rankings all year, but Oregon never got the one big hit it needed.
Oregon gave Oregon State ace Luke Heimlich as tough if a battle as he has seen all year, but left 10 runners stranded and teed up just one extra-base hit against him. The win clinched atleast a share of the Pac-12 title for the Beavers and left the Ducks searching for answers once again.
“I don’t know if (Heimlich) was as sharp as he usually is with all three pitches,” Oregon head coach George Horton said. “He made some good pitches when he needed to. We set the table okay; we did okay with leadoff hitters and getting guys in scoring position. … I think we’re fortunate that we got as many chances as we did.”
Oregon sent Cole Stringer to the mound on short rest, and he made it through Oregon State’s lineup once relatively unscathed. But in the fourth, the Beavers jumped all over him when Adley Rutschman and Michael Gretler each hit solo homers to left field to give Oregon State a 2-0 lead.
The Beavers had a chance to do further damage in the inning after pair of errors from Spencer Steer and Kyle Kasser gave Oregon State extended life, but Stringer forced Steven Kwan to fly out and end the inning.
After a 5.1 inning, scoreless outing against Washington State on Sunday that was one of his best starts of the year, Stringer returned on three-days rest to face the Beavers so Oregon ace David Peterson could throw on normal rest during the series. He lasted four innings and gave up five hits.
“He was making pitches when he needed to,” Horton said of Stringer. “He got hit hard twice with leadoff hitters with nobody on base, and they hit it over the fence. Tip your cap to them; it’s not easy to hit the ball over the fence here.”
Oregon’s leadoff batter reached base in four of the first six innings, but poor bunting and a failure to put the ball on the ground left them empty-handed on almost every occasion.
The Beavers tacked on another run in the fifth when Rutschman singled home Jack Anderson, who doubled to left field to lead off the inning.
Heimlich entered Thursday with the lowest ERA in the nation by a wide margin, and saw it rise just slightly against the Ducks. Heimlich didn’t deliver many clean innings and he allowed the leadoff batter to reach four different times. But he used a low-90’s fastball and devastating curveball to limit the Ducks.
His lone earned run, and the Duck’s only run of the game, came when Heimlich hit Jake Bennett with a pitch with the bases loaded. That brought Oregon’s No. 3 hitter, Spencer Steer, to the plate, and after Heimlich worked a 2-2 count, he forced Steer into a 4-6-3 double play to escape the inning.
“We had a couple of shots right away,” Oregon shortstop Kyler Kasser said. “Those are the ones you need. You’ve gotta start throwing punches early; we didn’t throw a punch and they threw two solo shots there in the fourth inning. It goes to show that we’ve got to capitalize.”
James Acuna, Cooper Stiles and Connor Zwetsch all got work out of the bullpen for Oregon. That leaves Oregon with top relievers Kenyon Yovan and Brac Warren both available for the remainder of the series.
Follow Jarrid Denney on Twitter @jarrid_denney