Non-conference woes

By The Beacon | April 13, 2011 9:00pm

Pilots show signs of life for the start of conference play, but a 6-4 loss to Oregon highlights a struggle against non-conference opponents

(Bryan Brenize -- The Beacon)

By PJ Marcello, Staff Writer --

On Wednesday, the Pilots fell to in-state rival University of Oregon in a 6-4 loss at Joe Etzel field.

The Pilots scored two runs in the bottom of the seventh before the Ducks responded with a two run rally in the top of the eighth to steal the game.

The non-conference schedule has been a struggle for the Pilots, who are 10-16 in non-conference games. However, the team may have found a way to turn its luck around in conference games.

In the first conference series of the season, Pilot baseball took two of three games against Pepperdine last weekend.

The Pilots have struggled as of late but show signs of improvement in their first conference series. They found a couple ways to win which included a come-from-behind 7-6 win in the 10th, and a complete game shutout from sophomore ace Chris Johnson.

"It's obviously nice to win again," Johnson said. "We had a tough non-conference schedule so it was nice to settle back in at home. We consider conference games a new season so we got to start over with a clean slate."

The Pilots can now chisel out a few wins on that slate and they believe they can continue the trend throughout the rest of league play into the post season.

"Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom to get better like we did but now we are going to blossom," sophomore pitcher JR Bunda said.

Coming off an 11-1 loss to No. 19 ranked Oregon State and throwing 10 walks in the game, there were a lot of questions about the pitching, hitting and fielding for the team. The team responded strongly, especially with Johnson's eight strike out, no walk performance.

"We were up and down before so we had to figure some stuff out in practice. The pitching has improved, the fielding is better and the bats came alive," Johnson said. "We have enough talent to compete with and beat anyone in league."

The team credits some of its improved play against Pepperdine to the fact that they can now practice in the better weather, and that they are no longer stuck on the road for long stretches.

"We're finally able to get into a groove and get more practice time which is something the coaches have been stressing," Bunda said. "We are able to get on our field and get on rhythm; it's nice to be home."

The benefits of finally getting a consistent schedule have paid off so far and the support at home is a huge contribution to the team's success.

"Being settled in for conference games at home helps us," Johnson said. "We were on the road almost every week, 20 of our first 25 games were away games. Guys were getting tired and it was tough to get into a rhythm."

Despite the struggles of the pre-conference schedule, the Pilots have their conference games to look forward to for most of the remainder for the season.

The team will have an opportunity to get back into winning form in an upcoming WCC three-game series against San Francisco at Joe Etzel Field tomorrow at 3 p.m.