Oregon sophomore starting pitcher Kenyon Yovan was in a bind.
After allowing only two hits and one run through eight innings, Yovan put Arizona runners on first and second base with no outs in the ninth inning. He had just hit a batter, and his pitch count was well above 100.
Then he hit another batter to load the bases. It could have been fatigue, or maybe two pitches just slipped, but his eight innings of work looked like it was all for naught. It could’ve been time for the bullpen to step in.
“That ball was not coming out of my hand,” Yovan said. “That was my game to finish.”
And he did. Yovan struck out Cesar Salazar, the Wildcat who ended his no-hitter bid with a home run in the seventh inning. One strikeout later and Yovan was one out away from Oregon’s only complete game of the season.
He got the final batter to pop out into center field, and the Ducks (26-28, 12-17) grabbed the 2-1 victory over the Arizona Wildcats (33-22, 13-16).
It was a dramatic end to a pitching and defensive focused game. Yovan lost his no-hitter, and he almost lost the game, but he battled through to finish the game while the Ducks provided just enough run-support to give Yovan the well-earned win.
“He is a guy that wants the ball in the big moment,” Oregon head coach George Horton said. “There’s not many people in America that get out of that jam after everything they did leading up to that.”
Yovan kept dealing through it all. Horton could have pulled him at any point during the close game for fresh arms, but he stuck with his gut and trusted the pitcher who got them far.
“We’re betting on mentality,” Horton said. “If we were gonna go behind, then we should go behind with Kenyon in there.”
Oregon’s offense worked when it mattered.
In the fourth inning, Oregon got a break. Spencer Steer hit what should have been a routine pop-fly for the Arizona catcher, Salazar, but instead, he had trouble tracking the ball and dropped it.
Johnny DeLuca did not let the good luck go to waste, riping a double into left field, scoring Steer from first base to give Oregon the 1-0 lead.
The Ducks got a crucial run in the seventh inning right after Arizona tied the game. With runners on first and second with two outs, Kyle Kasser hit an RBI single into right-center field to give Oregon the 2-1 lead. That was all they needed.
“They all came up to me and said, ‘Well, we got you one,'” Yovan said.
The Ducks will not be going anywhere this postseason, and it is an overall disappointing season. They will finish just under .500, but it is always good to have fun on the way out.
“My goal coming into this weekend was to set a tone for next year,” Yovan said. “First day of practice can’t come soon enough.”
Follow Jack Butler on Twitter @Butler917