by Rob Moseley
Round one of the top-10 matchup at PK Park this weekend went to visiting Cal State Fullerton, by knockout.
The fifth-ranked Titans were better in all three phases of the game Friday night, chasing UO ace Tommy Thorpe after six earned runs and keeping the No. 9 Ducks off the scoreboard into the ninth inning of a 9-2 victory. The series continues Saturday at 2 p.m.
"I don't think Thorpe was awful; I think they kicked our rear ends," said UO coach George Horton, who was honored before the game for his 900th career win earlier this month, 490 of which came at Fullerton from 1997 through 2007.
"Fourteen hits in this ballpark on a Friday, and nine runs, is a whooping. We got beat in a lot of different ways."
The Ducks suffered their first loss in nine games this season. They'll look to turn it around Saturday behind freshman phenom Matt Krook, who has 19 strikeouts and three walks in two starts this season, with a 2.03 ERA.
"That sets up a pretty intriguing thing, to see Matt Krook — who has been very poised — against a team that puffed our lip and bloodied our noses," Horton said. "That's why I can't wait for tomorrow. I wish we could play right now."
Part of that was excitement at seeing Krook's PK Park debut, but part was also frustration at Friday's result.
Thorpe fell to 1-1 with a 3.93 ERA after giving up seven runs total, including a five-run fourth inning. He made some mechanical adjustments for this start after some inconsistencies to open the season, and through two innings against the Titans they seemed to be paying dividends.
Fullerton scored an unearned run in the third, capitalizing on an error by new UO first baseman A.J. Balta, who was filling in at the position with Scott Heineman out injured and Mitchell Tolman shifted across the diamond to third. The Titans scratched across two more with a walk and three soft singles in the fourth, before Thorpe hung a slider that Matt Chapman put just over the left-field fence.
The three-run homer gave Fullerton a 6-0 lead, and they'd add another in the fifth off Thorpe.
"The third inning went sideways, and then that fourth inning really went sideways," Thorpe said. "Some things went a certain way, and that's how the game goes sometimes."
Horton credited Fullerton's hitters for getting to some tough pitches, and Thorpe didn't seem particularly displeased with how he threw the ball — though the results were obviously not to his liking. He said he'll stick with his new mechanics next time out.
Fullerton tacked on two more runs against UO reliever Darrell Hunter in the sixth for a 9-0 lead. Oregon, meanwhile, was having no luck against Thomas Eshelman, who beat the Ducks in a Friday night start for the second straight season.
Eshelman (2-0) went eight shutout innings, allowing two hits and a walk with seven strikeouts. The biggest surprise was the lone walk, the first Eshelman surrendered this season after walking only three in 17 starts a year ago.
"Everything was working for him tonight," UO designated hitter Kyle Garlick said of Eshelman, who leaned heavily on a fastball by changing speeds and location. "You really can't do much with that. He was just mixing it up well tonight."
Garlick helped Oregon avoid the shutout with a two-run double in the ninth off Titans reliever Miles Chambers. It was small consolation at that point.
"You never like to get shutout, but it's not a 'W,'" Garlick said.
Thus, the opener of this three-game set went to Cal State Fullerton. Given the implications of a top-10 matchup, between the two schools where Horton made his name as a college coach, the Ducks might have been feeling the pressure of the moment, they said.
"There was some doubt, and that's disappointing to me," Horton said. "As much as we talk about, 'You play the game, we don't play our opponent,' in this case I think some kids played the opponent."
"We weren't ourselves tonight," Garlick said. "I didn't feel right, didn't feel like when we were at LMU (for three wins last week). We just need to come out tomorrow and be ourselves."