by Rob Moseley
When the Oregon baseball team seemed listless in practice Tuesday, assistant coach Mark Wasikowski tried to lift the Ducks' spirits. Sure, they'd just been swept at Oregon State, but this was a quality club with plenty of season left to play.
On Friday night, when the Ducks again lacked life in the first few innings against Arizona, Wasikowski took a different tack. Oregon's hitting coach ripped into the Ducks after they'd been set down in order through the first three innings. This time, the message was received.
Shaun Chase's first of two home runs, an absolute bomb to right-center field, got the Ducks going in the fifth inning of a 6-1 victory over the Wildcats at PK Park. Chase drove in three runs on three hits, in the process becoming Oregon's leading hitter in Pac-12 play, and freshman shortstop Mark Karaviotis had two run-scoring singles as the bottom of the UO order took Wasikowski's tirade to heart.
"It was a wake-up call for us, and we answered back," said Karaviotis, who was hitting .152 in conference play entering Friday.
The wake-up call for the offense made a winner of UO left-hander Tommy Thorpe (7-4), who allowed one run on five hits and two walks before leaving with two out in the eighth. The Ducks (32-13, 11-8 Pac-12), who jumped ASU and USC back into third place in the conference, host the Wildcats again Saturday at 3 p.m.
The hangover affecting the Ducks in the early going Friday was felt most acutely by the top of the order, which continued to scuffle after a miserable weekend in Corvallis. But Chase had 10 total bases out of the No. 6 hole, and Karaviotis used a more aggressive approach at the plate to single in runners from third in the fifth and seventh innings.
Chase, whose nickname is "Whammer" because of his reputation as a pure power hitter, is now up to .381 in Pac-12 games this spring, among the best averages in the conference. His seven home runs lead the league, and his two-homer game Friday was Oregon's first since Ryon Healy launched a pair against Stanford last season.
"Right in front of our eyes he's kind of emerging as more of a complete hitter," UO coach George Horton said.
Chase said credit for his improved approach is owed to Wasikowski. A .194 career hitter through two seasons, Chase hit a meager .147 in nonconference games this spring but has flourished in Pac-12 play by not trying to crush every pitch he sees over the fence.
"I finally stopped trying so hard, and it works," Chase said, before adding with a sly smile, "so, I might stick with it."
Thorpe overcame shaky fastball command early to keep the Wildcats (18-26, 7-15) off-balance much of the night. He continues to enjoying improved use of the curveball the last few weeks, and he struck out five batters Friday.
Arizona used a double off UO left fielder Kyle Garlick's glove and then an RBI single to score off Thorpe in the seventh. He left with two on and two out in the eighth, giving way to lefty reliever Garrett Cleavinger, who took the loss last Saturday at Oregon State. Cleavinger allowed a single to load the bases Friday but then got out of the inning with a flyball.
While Cleavinger reversed his fortunes from the Civil War sweep, Oregon's hitters at the top of the lineup are still waiting to break out. Coaches shuffled the order Friday, dropping freshman A.J. Balta into the No. 7 hole, but the top four hitters in the order went just 1-for-13, after the Ducks got 3-for-45 production from those spots in Corvallis.
"Hopefully our top guys will get just as hot as they've been at certain times," Horton said. "But it's nice to have the bottom guys pick them up until they catch their stride again."