Facing the No. 1 team in the nation and the Pac-12’s most dominant pitching staff, Oregon hitters went down swinging.
And looking. And swinging.
The Ducks struck out 17 times, including twice with the bases loaded in the eighth inning, and fell 6-5 to No. 1 UCLA on Friday night at PK Park.
“I was proud of my guys fighting back,” coach George Horton said. “That’s real stuff. I’m not proud of striking out 17 times.”
Despite the strikeouts, Oregon made UCLA pitchers work after spotting the Bruins a 6-0 lead. Starter Jack Ralston improved to 11-0 but allowed four runs before yielding to the bullpen in the seventh inning.
Spencer Steer and Gabe Matthews opened the bottom of the eighth with back-to-back walks, followed by a sacrifice bunt by Jonny DeLuca. The Bruins brought on closer Holden Powell, who walked Evan Williams to load the bases and then missed the plate with a 3-2 pitch to Jakob Goldfarb to bring the Ducks within 6-5.
Cameron Campbell and Kyle Froemke, hitting .197 and .167 respectively, were next at the plate. Horton decided against a pinch hitter, then watched as Holden struck out Campbell on a check swing and got Froemke to chase an 0-2 pitch to end the inning.
“We didn’t have a lot of good choices on the bench or I would have pulled the trigger,” Horton said. “Easy to second-guess that amongst myself, but I thought that was our best two guys tonight, and it didn’t work out that way.”
Holden struck out the side in the ninth for his league-leading 16th save.
The bright spot for Oregon was the performance of Cole Stringer, who pitched 6 1/3 innings of scoreless relief. Stringer entered in the third inning after the Bruins roughed up starter Brett Walker. He allowed a single to the first batter he faced but gave up only one more hit the rest of the game.
“This is about as efficient as I’ve been all year,” said Stringer, who threw 64 pitches.
Walker got the start in place of Cullen Kafka, who was out with an illness. He pitched two scoreless innings before allowing all six UCLA runs in the third.
The Ducks answered with two runs in the bottom of the inning on an RBI single from Froemke and a run-scoring groundout from Tanner Smith. They scored two more in the fourth on an RBI double from Goldfarb and a fielder’s choice from Campbell.
With Stringer mowing down the Bruins, Oregon had a chance to rally but couldn’t complete the comeback.
“Cole was spectacular,” Horton said. “He did a really good job keeping us in the game and let us make a run at it.”
The loss clinched a losing season for the Ducks, who fell to 27-29 and 10-19 in the Pac-12. They’re officially eliminated from postseason contention entering Saturday’s regular-season finale against the Bruins, who secured the conference title Thursday night.
“We’re playing good baseball,” Stringer said. “We’re hanging with one of the best teams in college baseball yesterday and today.
“We have it in us.”