Oregon starting pitcher Cullen Kafka was cruising. After a brief hiccup in the second inning, where he allowed two runs, the sophomore was just two outs away from qualifying for his third win of the season. Then things fell apart.
With one out and a runner on first, Washington’s Joe Wainhouse lined the ball to right fielder Aaron Zavala. Zavala, the usual designated hitter, was making just his second start in right field. His inexperience showed as he misplayed the liner.
He did recover enough to set up a play at third base, but once again, the defense failed. Oregon third baseman Sam Novitske missed the throw, allowing the tying run, Nick Kahle, to score and Wainhouse to advance all the way to third.
The misfortune did not end there. The next batter, Connor Blair, hit a go-ahead two-run home run off of Kafka. Five batters later and UW was leading 6-3 and Kafka’s night was finished with seven surrendered runs, three unearned.
“We did a couple good things, but we didn’t get off the mound in the second inning and it cost us a run,” head coach George Horton said. “Then we don’t play catch; and that ended up opening the floodgates for a big inning. … A two-error play turned maybe a small number into a huge number.”
After taking a brief 3-2 lead, Oregon baseball (10-6, 0-1) fell apart with shoddy defense, poor at bats and pitching mistakes. The Ducks had just one base runner (a Spencer Steer walk in the ninth) and were outscored 7-0 by Washington (10-4, 1-0) over the final four innings to lose the game 9-3.
“I didn’t think we were as competitive as we’ve been offensively either,” Horton said. “Especially once they extended the lead, I thought our outs were not competitive.”
Poor pitch location, paired with defensive and mental mistakes, wound up being the Ducks’ downfall.
Kafka (2-1) and the Oregon relievers combined to allow 14 hits and five walks. Add the two errors and a passed ball, and that doesn’t look good on any team.
“I don’t think [Kafka] was as sharp as he’s been for us,” Horton said. “He couldn’t locate his pitches as effectively as he usually does.”
Senior Jakob Goldfarb, has caught all five of Kafka’s starts, but they are also his only career starts at catcher. Although there is familiarity between the two, Goldfarb is still learning the position.
With Goldfarb, the usual right fielder, starting behind the plate in place of the more experienced Cameron Campbell, and freshman Tanner Smith, the alternate right fielder, out with an injury, Zavala started his second game in right field. This led to a less accomplished defense, and it showed.
“It hurt us tonight,” Horton said. "Certainly that’s a play we have to make and I think [Zavala] will make it. … He’s a good enough athlete. He just let a play get away from him.”
The inexperience by both Goldfarb and Zavala proved costly, but their bats were what put the Ducks up in the first place. Goldfarb went 1-of-4 and tied the game in the fourth with a single. Zavala went 1-of-3 with two RBIs, one of which gave Oregon that 3-2 lead.
Alongside Zavala, first baseman Gabe Matthews continued his great season. The junior came into Friday night hitting .469 and went 1-of-3 with two runs scored.
Follow Maverick Pallack on Twitter @mavpallack