First inning explosion not enough as Ducks fall against No. 3 Oregon State

Originally Posted on Emerald Media via UWIRE

The first inning was the Ducks’ dream.

Starting pitcher James Acuna forced Oregon State to go three up, three down, striking out Steven Kwan and Nick Madrigal, who, entering the game, combined for only eight strikeouts in 211 at-bats.

One half-inning later, the Ducks were up 3-0 with one swing of the bat from designated hitter Kenyon Yovan. Days after striking out 15 batters against USC, Yovan sent this ball over the left-field wall to take the lead over the Beavers. It looked like the Ducks had the offense they were lacking all season.

But that was all the offense Oregon (21-21, 8-13) mustered in a 4-3 loss to No. 3 Oregon State (33-7, 12-6) on Tuesday night. Like all rivals, these teams know each other well, and the Oregon State pitching staff knew what the Ducks couldn’t hit, while the Oregon pitchers had too many self-inflicted wounds.

The powerful Beaver bats responded to Oregon’s first inning attack. In the top of the second inning, and on the second pitch of the inning, Trevor Larnach hit an off-speed pitch over the center field wall.

Soon after, Acuna (7.96 ERA) struggled to control the ball. He walked two batters and hit one, loading the bases with one out. Even in the most important situation, Acuna missed his pitches, walking in a run to put the game at 3-2.

“I don’t know what happened to him after he got punched in the nose with Larnach’s home run,” Oregon head coach George Horton said. “All of a sudden he totally lost it there for a little bit.”

But after a half-inning that was going downhill fast, Acuna got a bit of luck. Kwan grounded the ball right to him, and the Ducks turned the uncommon 1-2-3 double play.

The Beavers pulled starting pitcher Jordan Britton after the first inning for Kevin Abel, and the Oregon offense only reached second base one more time against him.

“Tip your cap to Abel,” Horton said. “When you get into your midweek pitching, you certainly don’t expect a guy to give you six (innings) plus. He was outstanding. He kept us off balance, and we didn’t put much pressure on him.”

Abel entered the game with a 5.72 ERA, but he held the Ducks to one hit over 6.1 innings pitched and earned the win. Throughout the game, the Ducks tried to solve Oregon State’s pitching, but there were few answers.

“Well, besides praying, you have to really be laser focused,” Horton said.

Meanwhile, the Beavers, who are tied for fourth in the nation in team batting average, took the lead in the fourth inning. Oregon State had runners on first and second with one out when Troy Claunch roped a ball over the glove of Oregon first baseman Gabe Matthews. A run scored from second base, and the game was tied at three. One infield hit later, the Beavers drove in a run from third base to take the 4-3 lead.

Oregon did what it could to try and manufacture runners in scoring position. The Ducks were caught stealing twice in consecutive innings, both of which were easily thrown out by Oregon State catcher Claunch.

Now, after the loss, the Ducks travel for a nonconference series against UC Irvine, where they hope to revive their chances of making the postseason.

“We’re fighting for our lives,” Horton said.

Follow Jack Butler on Twitter @Butler917

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