Grayson Grinsell Pac-12 Baseball Tournament

Mojo Hill, Daily Emerald

Tuesday night wasn’t pretty. Not at all.

But it doesn’t always need to be pretty to grind out a win.

Oregon kicked off the second Pac-12 Baseball Tournament with a 3-2 victory over Cal Tuesday night at Scottsdale Stadium. But for the majority of the game, the Ducks trailed, and they struggled badly in their attempts to even things up. They stranded baserunners galore, including two inning-ending double plays with the tying run on third.

But somehow, they prevailed. Some shoddy Cal defense helped Oregon persevere in the eighth, clawing and scratching its way to a victory. It was senior infielder Gavin Grant’s words in the dugout — embracing a “backs-against-the-wall mentality” — which pumped the group up, allowing them to ultimately prevail. It was ugly, but a win is a win, and it kept the Ducks’ tournament championship hopes very much alive.

“We were able to set the table with some action on a couple of different occasions, and then we just couldn’t convert,” Oregon head coach Mark Wasikowski said. “I wasn’t disappointed; I didn’t feel like those guys quit on at-bats or anything like that.”

Freshman left-hander Grayson Grinsell was handed his first collegiate start after a strong season out of the bullpen. It was a peculiar move for Oregon to give a freshman his first start in such a critical game, but it made sense with Jace Stoffal still injured and Logan Mercado struggling.

The first pitch Grinsell threw was smashed to center field by Max Handron for a triple. It nearly left the yard, and Handron thought about trying for an inside-the-park home run before stopping at third. Cal got the early 1-0 lead on a hard-hit sacrifice fly to Rikuu Nishida. Scottsdale Stadium has smaller dimensions in right field, so Nishida had to jump up awkwardly against the wall to make the catch.

“He swung at the first pitch. Just tip the cap to it,” Grinsell said. “Alright, these guys are gonna come out, try to bear down and trust coach [Jake] Angier.”

Grinsell issued two free passes, with the liner to Nishida still being the only out thus far. After a quick players-only meeting on the mound, he composed himself. First baseman Jacob Walsh made a nice play on a soft nubber, helping Grinsell escape with only one run.

But the Bears immediately tagged Grinsell in the second. A leadoff double and a single — both hit hard — extended Oregon’s deficit to 2-0. Grinsell stranded his third runner in scoring position through two innings, once again limiting the damage to one run.

Oregon led off the bottom of the second with back-to-back singles from the Smiths — Tanner and Drew. T. Smith’s hit was a comebacker off starter Christian Becerra’s glove, and Becerra had to abruptly exit the game due to injury. Cal replaced him with right-hander Andres Galan, who made seven starts this year.

Walsh hit a potential double play ball, but second baseman Jack Johnston bobbled it and had to settle for one out. That set up an RBI opportunity for Bennett Thompson, who got Oregon on the board with a sacrifice fly.

Grant drew a walk to keep the inning going, but Nishida grounded out as the Ducks stranded two in scoring position.

The Bears led off the third inning with their third extra-base hit in as many innings — this time a double by Rodney Green Jr. Green stole third, but Grinsell buckled down in a big spot. He struck out back-to-back hitters, then recorded a flyout to strand his fourth runner in scoring position.

That was all for Grinsell, ending his shaky evening on a high note. He threw 46 pitches in three innings. All things considered, he did a good job to keep Oregon within a run.

Dylan McShane relieved him and struck out a pair in a perfect frame. It was as good as he’s looked all year.

The Smiths led off with back-to-back hits for the second time in four innings, putting runners on the corners with nobody out. But with the tying run 90 feet away, the Ducks wasted a massive opportunity. Walsh struck out, and Thompson grounded into a 6-4-3 double play.

Austin Anderson was next in line in Oregon’s bullpen game. The first two Bears reached against him, but he struck out two and stranded the runners. Cal fell to 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position.

“Those guys were fantastic,” Wasikowski said of the bullpen. “That was clearly the star of the game.”

But the Ducks couldn’t capitalize on Cal’s missed opportunities, blowing another critical chance of their own. Nishida and Colby Shade singled in the fifth, and Drew Cowley walked to load up the bases. For the second straight inning, Oregon grounded into an inning-ending double play, this time off the bat of Sabin Ceballos.

Walsh and Thompson both reached with two outs in the sixth. After 4 2/3 innings in relief of Becerra, Galan’s night finally came to an end. Grant struck out to end the inning, bringing the teams’ total to 1-for-16 with runners in scoring position.

Matt Dallas made his first appearance since May 14. Another double play helped him work around a walk in the sixth. He issued his second walk in the seventh, then gave up a long fly ball that nearly left the park but was run down by Shade.

Mercado, in his return to the bullpen, entered with two outs. He recorded a strikeout, then threw a perfect eighth to hold the deficit at one.

“A must-win game. No-brainer,” Wasikowski said of bringing in Mercado. “Logan wanted the ball, came to us at breakfast this morning. I mean, the guy was ready…. He was gonna start on Thursday, and I just told him, ‘We don’t play it that way right now.’”

The tables finally turned in the eighth, despite Oregon still failing to record a hit with a runner in scoring position. The huddle in the dugout, led by Grant, allowed them to put the previous seven innings behind them.

“Gavin has really good feel as far as when the moment requires him to use his voice as a leader and step up in situations like that,” T. Smith said. “And it seems like every time he does, the team responds really well to it.”

Ceballos led with a single. A T. Smith double put Ceballos on third, as the right fielder just missed making the catch.

“I thought he caught it until I heard the dugout. It started going crazy,” Smith said. “That was a real exciting moment.”

D. Smith hit a routine ground ball to third, and pinch-runner Bryce Boettcher initially didn’t run. It was nearly a disaster, as T. Smith was running to third. But the shortstop mishandled it and made an error, allowing Boettcher to sprint home with the tying run.

“Early on, we were putting maybe a little bit too much pressure on our at-bats,” T. Smith said. “I think towards the end there, we really just were able to slow it down, play some team baseball and focus on the task at hand.”

Cal brought a lefty in the game, and Walsh tagged him for a sacrifice fly to give Oregon a 3-2 lead. Thompson added a single, but D. Smith was caught trying to steal third.

Closer Josh Mollerus allowed a leadoff single but locked down the save in the ninth, allowing the Ducks to take a big sigh of relief. It was their first win in the short history of the Pac-12 Baseball Tournament.

“Going into the weekend, everybody — especially that was returning — had that taste in their mouth of what the tournament was like for us last year,” T. Smith said. “And to finally get to this win and get it off our backs was awesome.”

Oregon will look to stay alive in the tournament against Stanford on Thursday at 7 p.m.

“A couple double plays happened tonight, but we just gotta stick with it,” D. Smith said. “Keep sticking to our approach, and things’ll start falling and things’ll start going our way like it did in the eighth tonight.”

Sports Reporter

Joseph “Mojo” Hill is a sports writer and associate editor from Los Angeles. He enjoys watching and covering baseball. Outside of writing, he enjoys watching movies, playing tennis and playing clarinet.