Halfway through the first inning, the half-capacity PK Park crowd was on its feet. Competing chants of “Let’s go Ducks” and “L-S-U” rang through the bleachers, often overlapping and creating a sort of white noise gibberish.
It was loud, and it stayed that way all night.
The LSU Tigers defeated the Oregon Ducks 4-1 at PK Park on Sunday evening.
Right-handed pitcher Brett Walker started on the mound for the Ducks, but a combination of hot bats, missed calls and controversial first-base rulings led to a 1-0 LSU lead at the bottom of the first.
Oregon shortstop Josh Kasevich led the response in the bottom of the second with a double to the warning track in right-center, but was stranded as Anthony Hall, Sam Novitske and Jack Scanlon were put away in the next three at-bats.
The bats may have gone quiet, but the stadium remained anything but.
In the bottom of the third, Ducks leadoff hitter Tanner Smith stepped into the batter's box with Gavin Grant on first and no outs, ripping a hard-hit ground ball through the second base gap and advancing the runner to third in the process.
He rounded the bag safely and with ease, but was caught in a pickle as LSU first baseman Tre’ Morgan recovered from the play. Caught on the base path, Smith scrambled, waiting for the right moment to slide into second base. But Morgan narrowly overthrew his man, giving Smith just enough time to make it to second safely.
With two runners in scoring position, Ducks designated hitter Kenyon Yovan flew out to deep right, scoring Grant. By the end of the third, the Ducks were on the board and the score was locked at one apiece.
But the Tigers wasted little time on a response. Left fielder Gavin Dugas swung away on a 2-1 fastball, sending it over the left field fence and regaining an LSU lead.
Walker remained composed, inducing a groundout, a pop fly and a strikeout through the meat of the LSU order to fend off further damage.
Leading up to Sunday’s game, Walker was 6-2 on the season, with 55 strikeouts through 76 innings pitched.
“I thought the ball was coming out of his hand as well as it did all year long,” Oregon head coach Mark Wasikowski said. “I thought he [Walker] pitched very very well.”
At the 5 1/2 inning mark, the home team still trailing 2-1, PK Park erupted for the loudest “Shout” I’ve heard since last March.
But the visiting squad, nursing a one-score lead, remained proficient in face of the noise, holding the Ducks scoreless for the remainder of the fifth.
Tigers left fielder Dugas picked up right where he’d left off, barrelling up a 2-1 breaking ball from Walker. It sailed toward the center field fence as a back-peddling Anthony Hall struggled to find it. The ball careened off the wall and into the middle of the outfield as Dugas belted around the baseline, rounding first, then second, then third and sliding head-first into home plate as the ball flew past Ducks catcher Jack Scanlon.
The visiting dugout and the well-travelled LSU crowd seated along the third baseline erupted as Ducks fans and players fell eerily quiet. An inside-the-park home run (that was later ruled a triple and an error) had increased the Tiger lead to 3-1.
After a quiet seventh, the Tigers showed their offensive prowess once again in the eighth, as leadoff hitter Dylan Crews ripped a low-flying home run to deep left. It overshot the visiting bullpen, leaving the park all-together, increasing the LSU lead to 4-1.
Right-handed pitcher Hunter Breault took the mound for the Ducks in the top of the eighth with two outs in pocket and an LSU runner in scoring position, but he forced a groundout on his first batter, leaving the inning without further damage.
Going into this weekend, Breault had appeared 13 times on the year, posting a 5.14 ERA in the process.
Breault was dominant in the top of the ninth, putting LSU batters away three up, three down and giving the Ducks one more shot in the bottom of the inning.
With two runners on and two outs, Sam Olsson faced a full count. The stadium was on its feet, and the crowd was as loud as it had been all night. Despite a three-run deficit, it was as if the Ducks smelled blood.
But LSU pitcher Devin Fontenot dealt a fastball strike down the middle, snuffing out any hope of an Oregon comeback and closing off an emphatic 4-1 playoff victory for the Tigers.
Despite the loss, Wasikowski was upbeat.
“For the people of Eugene to see that type of a ball game, I think it’s awesome,” Wasikowski said. “That was an exciting ball game. People going nuts, watching two really good baseball teams compete and go after it.”
The Ducks will return to the field Monday at 7 p.m. in a winner-take-all rematch with the Tigers to compete for the Eugene Regional Championship and a spot in the NCAA Super Regionals later this month.