EUGENE – Early defensive miscues put Gonzaga University’s baseball team in a hole it couldn’t climb out of Saturday night against No. 13 Oregon at the NCAA’s Eugene regional.
Though the Bulldogs took advantage of a later error by the Ducks to make up some much-needed ground, GU ultimately fell 7-3 in a winners-bracket game at PK Park.
Gonzaga (34-18) will now face LSU – which it defeated 3-0 Friday night behind a stellar outing from junior right-hander Alek Jacob – in an elimination game at 3 p.m. Sunday. Should the Bulldogs win that game, they’ll have to face Oregon again with their season on the line Sunday night.
A win over the Ducks (39-14) will force a deciding game on Monday to determine which team will advance to next weekend’s Super Regionals. GU has yet to beat Oregon at PK Park this season.
In addition to Saturday night’s loss, the Bulldogs fell to the Ducks 10-3 on May 25.
William Kempner (3-3) took the loss for Gonzaga, surrendering four runs in a disastrous start in which the sophomore failed to make it past the second inning. All of those runs, however, were unearned. Two of the first four batters Kempner faced reached on fielding errors, with Oregon scoring its first run on a grounder that senior shortstop Ernie Yake got a glove on but couldn’t handle.
That’s not to say Kempner was entirely blameless for Gonzaga falling behind. The right-hander yielded a leadoff double to Ducks left fielder Tanner Smith to start the first, an RBI double to freshman center fielder Anthony Hall later in the inning and an RBI single to sophomore third baseman Sam Novitske that brought home Hall, putting Oregon up 4-0.
After Kempner walked the first batter he faced in the second, it became clear it wasn’t his night.
Gonzaga coach Mark Machtolf replaced him with freshman Trystan Vrieling, who lasted into the eighth despite giving up three runs in the fourth – two on a home run by Ducks first baseman Gabe Matthews.
Vrieling finished with seven strikeouts and just two walks. The right-hander allowed six hits.
Gonzaga erased much of its early deficit in the bottom of the third.
After the Bulldogs loaded the bases against Oregon starter Robert Ahlstrom, junior catcher Tyler Rando drove in Gonzaga’s first run with a sacrifice fly that scored senior designated hitter Ryan Sullivan.
The Bulldogs’ next batter, senior first baseman Andrew Orzel, then singled to center field and raced to second on an error by Hall. Yake and Brett Harris scored on the play, cutting the Ducks’ lead to 4-3.
That was as close as Gonzaga got, though, as Oregon bounced back with three runs in the fourth. Matthews’ homer capped the rally, widening the Ducks’ advantage to 7-3.
Gonzaga threatened to rally in the fifth, loading the bases with one out. Yake led off with a base hit, Rando followed with another after Harris flew out to left, and both moved up when Orzel was hit by a pitch.
Senior center fielder Guthrie Morrison, however, grounded into a double play to end the inning.
Yake and Rando led the Bulldogs with two hits apiece. Each connected for one double.
Ahlstrom pitched eight solid innings for Oregon. The junior struck out six, walked one and scattered seven hits before fellow left-hander Kolby Somers relieved him in the bottom of the ninth.
Matthews finished 2 for 4 with three RBIs and two runs scored. Novitske had a game-high three hits.