EUGENE, Ore. — The Oregon baseball team’s first postseason game in six years was a wild affair Friday, with the Ducks clubbing a school-record five home runs to beat Central Connecticut, 13-10, in the opening game of the NCAA Championship tournament’s Eugene Regional.
On a warm day with the wind blowing out, Kenyon Yovan and Anthony Hall each homered twice for the Ducks (38-14), and newly crowned Pac-12 player of the year Aaron Zavala also went deep. Oregon broke the team record for home runs in a season with 53 through Friday’s game, and will look to add on in a winner’s bracket matchup Saturday night; the Ducks will face the winner of Friday night’s late game between Gonzaga and Louisiana State.
“A huge thing we’re thinking about when we head up to the plate is just, club the baseball,” said Hall, who drove in six runs Friday. “That’s what we were doing today.”
The Ducks scored in each of the first six innings, leading 13-6 through six. The Blue Devils (28-14) rallied for four in the seventh, and though Oregon was unable to answer, bullpen stalwarts Andrew Mosiello and Kolby Somers combined to get the last eight outs of the game without allowing any more offense from CCSU.
“We created some opportunities to score and we nipped away and got it closer,” CCSU coach Charlie Hickey said. “But we never could go back out and put a zero up and gain any momentum coming back to the dugout.”
The Blue Devils moved on to an elimination game Saturday afternoon, against the loser of Friday night’s Gonzaga-LSU game.
“Obviously Central Connecticut State has got a lot of experience in postseason play, and they played like it today,” UO coach Mark Wasikowski said of the Northeast Conference champs, who have played in three of the last four NCAA Championship tournaments. “They were really tough; we knew they’d be tough. … We were not surprised whatsoever about what we were going to get out of that group. It was great to be able to match that toughness with our group.”
How It Happened: Cullen Kafka moved up a day in the rotation and got the start for the Ducks, who saved usual Friday night starter Robert Ahlstrom for Saturday’s game. Kafka allowed a pair of two-out singles in the first and another two-out hit in the second, but got out of those jams.
The UO offense provided him an early lead, right off the bat. Tanner Smith lifted a ball into short right field leading off the bottom of the first, and reached second base when the shortstop misplayed it. Yovan followed with his first homer, a titanic blast that comfortably cleared the scoreboard in left-center field.
“The first one might have been the hardest ball I’ve ever hit,” Yovan said. “It was a great feeling. The biggest thing was just to be able to put runs on the board early and help our pitching staff.”
Hall provided more help for Kafka in the second, with a leadoff homer that he pulled onto the roof of the player-development area in right field. Jack Scanlon then doubled with one out, and he later scored on a wild pitch for a 4-0 lead.
Three straight hits to lead off the third got CSU on the board, and a double-play ball brought another run home to make it 4-2. Yovan responded by leading off the bottom of the third with a home run into the batter’s eye in center field. Zavala followed with a single, went to third on a base hit by Josh Kasevich and scored on a fielder’s choice off the bat of Hall.
CCSU chased Kafka with two more runs in the fourth, before Nico Tellache came on to get the final out and strand two runners. The Ducks extended their lead to 7-4 in the bottom of the fourth without a hit; Scanlon walked, took second on a wild pitch, advanced to third on a fielder’s choice and scored on another, by Smith.
A two-out, two-run single by CCSU made it 7-6 in the top of the fifth, and chased Tellache. Freshman Isaac Ayon entered and ended the inning with a strikeout, before Oregon extended the lead to 11-6 in the bottom of the inning. Gabe Matthews started the rally with a one-out walk, Kasevich followed with a base hit and Hall went opposite field for his second homer of the day, a three-run blast.
Sam Novitske followed the homer with a double, and later scored on a wild pitch. Ayon pitched a scoreless top of the sixth before Oregon added on again, beginning with a leadoff homer by Zavala in the bottom of the sixth. Matthews was up next and walked, before coming in to score on a single by Hall.
CCSU rallied for four in the top of the seventh, thanks in part to an error that typified shaky infield defense by the Ducks all afternoon. Mosiello got the last two outs of the inning, stranding two runners, before pitching a clean top of the eighth — the first 1-2-3 inning by either team to that point. Somers pitched around a two-out walk in ninth for his 11th save.
At The Plate: Hall was 3-for-5 with six RBIs and two runs, and three Ducks had two hits each — Yovan, Zavala and Kasevich. Yovan’s first homer was his school-record 15th of the season, and he extended that record in the third.
“Something I’ve always dreamed of is playing in the postseason,” Yovan said. “It was the reason I came back here, to take this team and make a run. It was an amazing feeling.”
On The Mound: Wasikowski lauded the “real positive” outing from Ayon, who got the Ducks out of a jam in the fifth and pitched around a hit and a walk in the sixth. Ayon was credited with the win, improving to 2-1 on the season.
Kafka allowed four runs and nine hits in 3.2 innings. Wasikowski noted that while “offensively we competed at a really high level, defensively we just seemed to be occupying space. A few of the CCSU hits off Kafka got through infielders who weren’t credited with errors, but who might have been able to get outs with sharper play.
“That’s the sign of a group that hasn’t been in postseason play,” Wasikowski said. “To be able to experience that today, we kind of felt like we’d see some things that were uncharacteristic. And we did.”
Up Next: The Ducks return to action Saturday at 7 p.m.