By Kyle Cape-Lindelin, Staff Writer -- firstname.lastname@example.org
In a tight series with WCC leader Pepperdine last weekend, the Pilots showed they can hang with any team in the conference, even bringing home a win in a series of three with close games decided by pitching.
UP also received a taste of the in-state competition, falling to No. 21 Oregon State 5-0 at Joe Etzel Field on April 16 and Oregon 3-0 yesterday at Volcano Stadium in Salem. UP's record now stands at 20-12 overall and 7-5 in the WCC.
"It's been a very tough week for us in terms of competition," Head Coach Chris Sperry said. "It's not going to get any easier for us. I'm proud of our team for not quitting when they get down and having the strength to keep battling."
Despite having the lead through both games of the double header with Pepperdine on April 14, the Pilots lost each by just one run.
UP took a slim 2-1 lead into the bottom of the ninth before Pepperdine showed off their offensive firepower to take the game. After holding Pepperdine to just one unearned run thanks to solid pitching from senior Kyle Kraus, UP allowed the tying run off a sacrifice bunt in the ninth to send the game into extra innings.
Pepperdine loaded the bases with only one out after a failed UP attempt to regain the lead. With UP desperate to get an out and another chance at bat, Pepperdine freshman Drew Hacker drove in the walk-off RBI on a single to give Pepperdine the opening win of the series 3-2.
"The fact that we're staying close in games speaks volumes to our depth," junior Jeremy Burright, a pitcher, said. "We have 10 guys in our pitching rotation that can step in and deal. I have the utmost confidence we'll get over the hump soon."
The second game of the double header followed a similar pattern as the first as the Pilots were able to take the lead early, but couldn't drive in runs when they had the opportunity. UP stranded multiple runners on base in both games which could have been the deciding factor.
Pepperdine followed the same routine in the middle innings: Get runners on base, and have hitters drive them in. Pepperdine ended up scoring three runs after the seventh inning to take the lead for good, winning.
"We're having success, it's just not happening at the end of games," Sperry said. "All these games could have gone either way. It's a challenge but it's one I think we can overcome."
Freshman pitcher Travis Radke, one of the leading pitchers for ERA in the nation, took the loss after giving up three runs off eight hits, despite striking out six batters.
The third game followed suit as it was tight going into the 10th inning with UP finally coming out on top 4-3. The Pilots showed off their offensive power early, taking a 3-0 lead before nearly losing it all late in the game.
"This game was a testament to how much this team battles and competes every game," Sperry said. "It would've been very easy for us to come out after losing two straight close games and not compete, especially on the road. We fought hard for this win and I'm proud of our guys for that."
Freshman outfielder Caleb Whalen was the engine behind the Pilots offensive arsenal on April 15, driving in three of the Pilots' runs, including a two-run homer. It gives Whalen a team-leading five home runs in his early college career.
After Pepperdine quickly tied the game back up in the fifth inning, the game again went to extra innings. Freshman Cody Lenahan continued to show off a clutch offensive bat as he was able to take advantage of runners on base to line a single into outfield, driving in sophomore Turner Gill, who was the game-winning run.
Red-shirt senior Owen Jones, who picked up a blown save in the first game of the series, redeemed himself by forcing a fly-ball out and a double play to give UP the win over conference-leading Pepperdine. It was Jones 12th save this season, leaving him staring the all-time record of 14 in the face.
"We know that we're as good as any team we face," junior J.R. Bunda, a pitcher, said. "We need to show it and get over the hump of just staying close with good teams. I feel if we can stay close we always have that chance to take the win."
UP hosted No. 21 OSU on Monday. The Pilots got out to a rough start as Burright made his first start on the mound for the season.
OSU went to work, quickly scoring a run in first inning and then ending Burright's day with a three-run home run to go up 4-0 in the second.
"I just got to keep working and getting better, I didn't hit my spots today," Burright said. "I know this is something to build on, and I can take some positivity out of this. Things will start to happen as long as I put in the effort."
UP's bullpen was able to shut off the Beaver's early start, not allowing them to score another run the rest of the game. However, OSU also demonstrated dominant pitching and never let UP string together good offensive opportunities.
"We're taking this season day by day," Bunda said. "We're in the midst of a very challenging schedule so we constantly have to be focused on the next goal and stay positive about where we're at and the progress we're making."
UP gets ready for another trip into southern California as they prepare to face Loyola Marymount in what could be pivotal for conference standings on April 20-22. The games begin at 3 p.m., 2 p.m. and 1 p.m. respectively.