When Ryon Healy blasted his 11th home run of the season, a sigh of relief was heard among the sparse crowd at PK Park. The Ducks were on the board, something they failed to do in their first match up with Rice. Little did they know, that was just a sneak peek of the offensive outburst that was to come.
For the second straight game, Oregon’s bats came alive as they pummeled Rice 11-0, wiping their tough, 1-0 loss to the same team Saturday night from memory.
“11 to nothing … If that’s not momentum, I don’t know what is,” Wayne Graham Rice head coach said.
Oregon’s offense was ignited by Ryon Healy who went 4-4 from the plate with a single, two doubles, and a home run with four RBI. What’s more impressive, he did it while battling injuries.
“Healy felt good,” Horton said. “Certainly when you hit a home run early it makes your back feel better. He had a huge day and a courageous effort, obviously, by him.”
But it wasn’t just Healy’s career game, or Tyler Baumgartner who went 2-4, or Scott Heineman who came back after injury to hit 2-3 with 3 RBI. The whole team fed of momentum, multiple times sending hits down the baseline that willed themselves fair and coming alive with runners in scoring position.
“I have no idea were all of the offensive production came from,” Horton said. “My instincts tell me that a little bit of the edge was off, there was a little excitement. They still had the desire to be successful but they weren’t trying too hard.”
They posted innings with one, two, three and four runs scored on 15 hits. Each time they seemed to be hitting at will. Nothing, especially not the five pitchers Rice threw at them, could stop the Ducks.
“I think we had a lot more fight in us,” Baumgartner said. “Everyone realized what happened the last couple nights, the burden of last night and not being able to get it done offensively. Hitting’s contagious, too.”
From a pitching standpoint, Oregon looked like they could be in trouble headed into the game. Their bullpen and weekday starters had been roughed up down the stretch of the season with guys trying to play through injury.
It wasn’t an issue. Jeff Gold got the start and went five innings while giving up two hits, no runs and striking out four. His curve ball was seemingly unhittable no matter when he used it. When he didn’t throw his curve, the fastball was nearly just as dependable.
“My mentality was that I didn’t want to lose,” Gold said. “I didn’t want the season to be over for all these guys. I just went out and executed coach’s game plan. Shaun (Chase) caught the crap out it, so, that was really all it was. I didn’t want to lose.”
Darrell Hunter, the first recruit to the program that was reinstated in 2009, came in and threw three perfect innings.
Jordan Spencer came on to finish off the Owls in the ninth. With Cole Irvin throwing a complete game in game three and the Oregon bullpen locking it down in game four, Horton got to rest the Vulture (Garrett Cleavinger) and the Wild Thing (Jimmie Sherfy) for what could be a much closer game five.
The final facet of the game, defense, did what they always do: make highlight plays to hold opposing offense at bay.
An overall captain of the game came in the form of catcher Shaun Chase. Saturday night Horton had said that Josh Graham would be catching Sunday, but Graham was bumped from the game after he showed up late.
“When a catcher is managing the game for 18 innings like that, it’s fun to work together,” Horton said. “You saw him running out to the mound if Goldy or Darrel were getting off track, I thought he kept those guys spot on.”
With the win, Oregon and Rice will now play a third and final game to decide who advances to super regionals. The game will be at 6 p.m. Monday at PK Park. Neither coach has decided on a starting pitcher. Television coverage can be found on ESPN3.