by Rob Moseley
Matt Krook will have better starts at PK Park in his UO baseball career. Still, his debut Saturday afternoon gave the home fans plenty to like from the heralded freshman pitcher.
Settling down from a rough start, Krook faced the minimum over his final four innings, at one point striking out five straight during a no-decision in Oregon's 3-2 loss to Cal State Fullerton.
The fifth-ranked Titans took advantage of some early wildness to touch Krook for two runs in the second inning, but from there he showed off the stuff that made him a first-round MLB draft pick last summer.
"In the 'pen he was finding it a little bit, and then when he got on the mound I think it went away," UO freshman catcher Jack Kruger said. "He really worked through it, and I thought he ended up pitching really well."
No. 9 Oregon (8-2) rallied to tie the game with runs in the third and fourth innings, before Fullerton scored the decisive run in the ninth. The Ducks will try to avoid a sweep Sunday at noon, a year after salvaging the final game of a three-game set at Fullerton last season.
Krook threw 111 pitches over six innings Saturday, allowing three hits and the two runs with eight strikeouts and two walks. Making his outing all the more impressive, the devastating slider he usually features wasn't working for him in the bullpen prior to the game, so he relied mainly on his fastball and breaking ball.
In the first inning, Krook hit 90 miles per hour or better with his first nine pitches, and reached 93 to retire the second batter on a ground ball. He settled in around 88 to 90 from the second inning on, but lost his feel for the strike zone in the second.
The Titans used a hit batter and two walks to set the stage for Austin Diener's two-run single.
"It was awesome to pitch at home for the first time," Krook said. "It's a new experience, and I wouldn't say nerves (were a factor). A lot more excitement than nerves, and I think that showed the first few innings."
Perhaps fittingly, the Ducks seemed inspired by some early rain fall. Aaron Payne singled in Connor Hofmann in the bottom of the third, when rain began to fall on PK Park. The game was delayed about 23 minutes entering the fourth, after which Krook retired nine straight to finish out his day, including seven strikeouts.
"Catching him is an adventure; he's so filthy," Kruger said. "It's really incredible. Catching hard and straight is easier; he has so much movement on everything he throws, you always have to be ready."
The Ducks tied it in the bottom of the fourth, after Kyle Garlick singled with one out. Kruger's first collegiate hit put runners at the corners, and then he sparked a delayed double steal by coaxing a throw to second from Titans starter Justin Garza (2-0), allowing Garlick to break for home.
But Fullerton (6-3) broke the tie in the ninth, after top hitters Matt Chapman and J.D. Davis singled to end a run of six straight retired by UO reliever Trent Paddon. Greg Velazquez followed with a sacrifice fly.
"They're a good club," Garlick said. "I thought we did a good enough job to win tonight, but just didn't get it done at the end. We had opportunities, just didn't come through this time."
Oregon nearly scored in the ninth for the second straight day, after Tyler Baumgartner led off with a single and was bunted to second. Garlick got overanxious and grounded the first pitch he saw to third base, before A.J. Balta blasted a deep drive to right field that was caught on the warning track in front of Oregon's player development area.
"I thought he hit it out," Kruger said. "I've seen A.J. hit it on top of that PDA about 20 times in BP this year. When he hit that I thought, 'He did it.'"
But Fullerton's Clay Williamson made the play with his back to the fence, and Oregon was left looking to claim one game in the series Sunday.
"You salvage one out of three — and any time you can win against a team that's probably going to stay at the top of the polls — it's a good RPI game," UO coach George Horton said. "I would suspect we'll get a max effort out of our kids; they've always been that way."