Yovan battled through dramatic ninth inning to pitch Ducks’ only complete game this season

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 …

As if these times weren’t already uncertain enough, it’s hard to imagine what was going through Kenyon Yovan’s mind after the MLB Amateur Draft was shortened to just five rounds. Following the draft’s conclusion on June 11, the redshirt junior ultimately chose to forgo signing a $20,000 contract with an MLB team so he could jump back in and continue his career at Oregon.

This certainly isn’t the first time that the Beaverton, Oregon, native has chosen to continue his baseball career in his home state. After being drafted out of high school in the 32nd round by the Seattle Mariners in 2016, he jumped right in as a pitcher and hitter his freshman year at Oregon.

During his first two seasons with the Ducks, he found more success on the mound than at the plate, posting a 2.70 ERA. Even after missing most of the 2019 season due to injury, he was drafted again in the 27th round by the Los Angeles Angels. Now, he is once again returning, and is making his commitment clear as he chooses Oregon over other opportunities for the third time.

“I couldn’t be more excited,” Yovan said of his decision to return after the NCAA granted all spring athletes an extra year of eligibility. “The group of guys that we had last season was something special...To not even see a Pac-12 series was difficult for me personally just because I knew the potential that our team had.”

The sudden shortening of the season was certainly tough on all spring athletes, but it’s even more frustrating for Yovan. After missing most of the 2019 season, he hit a blistering .429/.566/.714 in 15 games and was denied the chance to play the full season out. As most of Yovan’s college success previously came on the mound, it was encouraging to see him burst out so suddenly on the offensive side, but unfortunate that he wasn’t able to finish it out.

“It was hard to get past the injury that I went through and try to reinvent the wheel when it came to pitching,” he said. “I put my head down and got to work hitting and it paid off.”

However, with a dearth of time to reflect, train and prepare, Yovan is determined to continue that momentum into 2021.

“I’m excited to get bigger and stronger than I am,” he said, while also acknowledging that it feels weird to essentially get a do-over at his junior season. 

Yovan’s Oregon career has been riddled with inconsistencies and injuries, but this extra year of eligibility has provided him an extra chance to “prove everyone wrong.” The extended offseason has given him even more time to get healthier and stronger as he prepares for potentially two more full seasons of college baseball.

In order to stay in shape and build up strength, he’s mostly been working out in a teammate’s garage.

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“We’ve had pretty much everything we need in there,” he said. “Staying busy, just finishing with school, playing golf, going fishing, just trying to do a lot of stuff that I didn’t really get a lot of time to do during the school year.”

Yovan is not only proud of the progress he’s made, but the progress of his teammates as well.

“We’ve had seven or eight kids in Eugene that we’ve been working out with, stuff like that, throwing, hitting, just trying to make the best of our opportunity with this...I’m excited to see the progress that people have made during quarantine.”

With everyone training and working out to the best of their abilities, Yovan is excited for the potential that the Ducks have next season.

“It’s going to be dangerous for other teams,” he said. “With the young guys that we have plus the experience...These freshmen have already gotten games as college athletes and I’m excited to see where that maturity takes them.”

Spring 2021 will also be the first full season for new head coach Mark Wasikowski, who only got a taste of action in his first games coaching the team this past spring. Wasikowski played for Pepperdine back in his collegiate days, and led the Ducks to an 8-7 record in his first year as head coach before the NCAA canceled the season.

“I love the intensity, the winning-first mindset. It’s something that we needed, a little push,” Yovan said of Wasikowski. “I can only imagine what we’re going to be like with another full-year-plus season with Coach Waz and the staff. It’s hard for me to wrap my head around because I’m excited.”

The Ducks have only made one College World Series appearance in their history, back in 1954, so Wasikowski and his crew are setting out to accomplish something historic. Yovan firmly believes that last year’s team was the one capable of getting to Omaha, so he’s looking forward more than ever to get a chance to do that again.

“[We’re] trying to make the days go by a little quicker until we get back on the field,” said Yovan. “We’re going to be back, and we’re going to be better than ever.”