A three-run eighth inning was all Oregon baseball needed to defeat Portland Tuesday night, as Sam Novitske emerged as the hero for the Ducks in their 4-1 victory.
Both teams struggled to score runs all night, but with the game tied at 1-1 in the bottom of the eighth, the Ducks capitalized on a Portland error. After pinch hitter AJ Miller walked with one out in the inning, Kyle Froemke laid down a bunt with the intent of advancing the runner into scoring position. But Portland catcher Dutton Elske threw the ball in right field trying to throw Froemke out at first. Froemke sprinted to second on the throw and Miller advanced to third on the error.
Up strode Novitske to the plate, the Ducks leadoff hitter, and the perfect batter for this situation because he is someone who makes contact and drives in runners on a consistent basis. Sure enough, Novitske calmly sent a 2-1 fastball into right field, scoring both Miller and Froemke, giving Oregon a 3-1 lead.
“In that situation, with the infield in, you’re looking for something up in the zone that you can hit in the air, either a sac-fly or a base hit” said Novitske.
His clutch hit was all the Ducks needed as Nico Tellache then came in and slammed the door shut in the ninth, earning his sixth save in the process.
Usually with runners on base, Oregon’s pitching staff has struggled to get out of innings unscathed. But Tuesday it was a different story. Starter Brett Walker worked his way out of a jam in the second inning, and reliever Cole Stringer worked his way out of two instances with two runners were on base.
“Walker had three great innings for us, Stringer then coming in [and gave us] three great innings” said Novitske. “That’s got to be a great confidence booster for our pitching staff, and I’m very happy for them.”
Keaton Chase also worked his way out of trouble in the eighth inning which set the table for the Ducks to score three runs in the bottom half of the inning, earning him his fourth win of the season.
Oregon’s pitchers combined for 14 groundouts and two flyouts on the night, allowing a defense that had been shifted around for the night plenty of reps.
For the first time all season Spencer Steer started at third base, while Froemke manned shortstop and Novitske played at second base.
“I think we are going to stick with that for a while, and tonight Spencer made a couple of plays... with his arm strength and maturity over there that Novitske may not make” said Horton.
As the Civil War series looms this weekend, Novitske knows the Ducks are headed into battle.
“Thats why it's called the Civil War” said Novitske. “It’s going to be a war out there, we’re going to come out with all we got, and they’re going to come out with all they got.”