Ducks Win Friday Night Thriller
EUGENE, Ore. — Gabe Matthews hit a two-run homer in the seventh inning Friday to back stellar pitching by UO starter Robert Ahlstrom and closer Kolby Somers, as the No. 13 Oregon baseball team opened its series against fellow Pac-12 championship contender Stanford by winning 2-1 before a limited sellout crowd of 641 in PK Park.
Matthews followed a leadoff single by Aaron Zavala in the seventh with his home run that broke a scoreless tie, in the process giving Matthews a new UO career record 803 at-bats. That provided a lead for Ahlstrom, who pitched into the eighth before giving way to Somers for a five-out save.
"That's as good a Friday night ballgame as I've been a part of in some time," UO coach Mark Wasikowski said. "…It was a fun Friday night; the fans definitely were a factor in it."
The Ducks (35-11, 18-7 Pac-12) entered the weekend atop the Pac-12 standings by percentage points ahead of Arizona — which beat Oregon State on Friday — and the third-place Cardinal. Oregon's eighth straight win kept the Ducks in first place with five games left in the regular season.
"It was just an outstanding ballgame," Wasikowski said. "It was well-played by both teams. Somebody had to lose; somebody had to win. Usually that's the kind of game you definitely like being the home team."
How It Happened: Ahlstrom won a pitcher's duel with Stanford starter Brendan Beck, who entered the game unbeaten in 10 starts this season. Each pitched around a runner in scoring position during the second inning before pitching into the eighth, with Beck throwing an eight-inning complete game for the Cardinal (29-13, 13-9).
Ahlstrom didn't allow a hit that left the infield until the eighth, surrendering only an infield single in the second prior to that. That runner was bunted to second before being stranded there. Josh Kasevich singled in the bottom of the inning for Oregon, moved to second on a wild pitch and took third on a fielder's choice, but he went no farther.
The Ducks threatened again in the fifth, when Anthony Hall reached on a one-out error and moved to second on a fielder's choice. He too was stranded, and Stanford threatened in the next half-inning on a two-out walk followed by a deep drive to right-center field. But Hall tracked that ball down near the wall, and the game remained scoreless into the seventh.
Ahlstrom struck out the side in the top of the inning, the Eugene native continuing to hold the Cardinal in check. In the bottom of the inning, the Keizer native Zavala led off with a single and the Salem native Matthews followed with his sixth home run of the year, into Oregon's right-field bullpen.
Ahlstrom opened the eighth with his fourth straight strikeout, his 10th of the game. Stanford finally found outfield grass with a double and a single, and Ahlstrom was pulled after 119 pitches. The first batter Somers faced hit a comebacker on which the Hillsboro native rushed a throw to second in hopes of getting an inning-ending double play; the throw pulled the fielder off the bag, allowing a run to score and putting two on with one out in a one-run game.
But Somers struck out the next batter and then coaxed a groundball on which UO third baseman Sam Novitske fired to first, just beating the runner to end the inning. The Cardinal created a little more drama in the ninth by working a two-out walk, but Somers slammed the door for his 10th save of the season.
On The Mound: Ahlstrom made it through at least seven innings for the fourth time in his last five starts. He came into the day leading all Pac-12 starters with an ERA of 2.20 before lowering it to 2.10 with Friday's performance.
"I feel like I've put together a pretty good stretch," said Ahlstrom, who allowed three hits and two walks with striking out 10. "Every time I've pitched, I feel like I give my team a chance to win. That's my goal."
At The Plate: Singles by Kasevich in the second and Jack Scanlon in the third were Oregon's only hits until the decisive bottom of the seventh inning. Matthews said Beck was mixing up his fastball, changeup, slider and curveball to keep the Ducks at bay — until the seventh.
"I was just trying to square something up through the middle of the field," Matthews said. "He threw me a curveball that hung up a little bit, and I was able to put a good swing on it."
Already Oregon's career leader in hits, RBIs, doubles and multi-hit games entering Friday, Matthews became the program's all-time leader in at-bats on the home run. He passed previous record-holder J.J. Altobelli, who had 802 at-bats from 2010-13.
Matthews now has 20 career home runs, one ahead of Kenyon Yovan for Oregon's active career lead and one shy of the program's career top five. He is now six runs shy of UO career leader Aaron Payne (135, 2011-14). Zavala's run scored on the homer was his 51st of the season, two shy of the UO single-season record set by Austin Grebeck in 2016.
Up Next: The Ducks will give the ball to RHP Cullen Kafka (5-2, 2.45) for game two of the series on Saturday at 3 p.m.