Ninth inning a royal Payne for Beavers
CORVALLIS -- The odds weren't in his favor when Aaron Payne stepped back into the batter's box in the top of the ninth inning Tuesday at Goss Stadium.
With runners at first and second base, one out and 1-2 count in a 3-3 tie, Oregon's left-handed-hitting second baseman was facing Oregon State southpaw reliever Max Engelbrekt, who had yielded one run in 19 innings all season.
Then Payne laced a hanging breaking ball to right-field for a two-run triple, the catalyst to the 16th-ranked Ducks' 6-3 non-conference victory over the sixth-ranked Beavers.
"He left it over the plate, and I was able to get the barrel on it," said Payne, a junior who had two hits, two walks and two RBIs. "With two strikes, I was just trying to get something I could handle."
Curiously, Payne -- at the behest of assistant coach Mark Wasikowski, who runs the UO offense for head coach George Horton -- had twice tried to bunt but failed to get one down fairly. Had Payne been able to move the runners up, Oregon State surely would have walked No. 3 hitter Ryon Healy to face cleanup man Mitchell Tolman for a lefty-lefty matchup with two outs.
"Coach Was runs the offense, but I kind of scratched my head as well," Horton allowed afterward. "But Coach Was is not stupid. I guess he either wanted Aaron to get a hit -- then there's no where to put Healy -- or he was comfortable with the matchup with (Engelbrekt) vs. Dolman.
"I try not to second-guess (Wasikowski). I try to first-guess him -- tell him ahead of time. But whatever he decides, I'm not going to second-guess him."
Wasikowski also appeared to have gone against conventional wisdom a batter earlier when leadoff man Brett Thomas swung and missed on a 3-0 pitch. Thomas eventually walked.
"There was a bit of a palms-up thing there," Thomas said. "As I understand it, Brett should not have been hitting there. That was a mistake.
"I was going to fire Was for that one," the fifth-year UO coach joked.
Oregon State coach Pat Casey was in no joking mood afterward, primarily due to the performance of his pitching staff.
"We gave them nine free bases," Casey said. "We walked six, hit three, threw four wild pitches and gave them a lot of opportunities. Can't do that against a good team."
Starter Taylor Starr had all kinds of control issues in a second inning in which Oregon scored two runs without a hit, the second run coming on a nicely executed squeeze play by Connor Hofmann. Starr threw four wild pitches and hit two batters in the frame.
"I asked him if he was fine," Casey said of Starr, who gave up three hits and three earned runs with a walk and three hits batsmen in three innings. "He said he was fine.
"He was real good the first inning. I don't know the answer. If I knew the answer, I'd help him fix it."
Trailing 3-1, Oregon State responded with a pair of runs in the fourth, Ryan Barnes giving the Ducks a taste of their own medicine with a squeeze play to tie the score at 3-3.
That score held until the fateful ninth inning as the Ducks won in Corvallis for only the second time in the Horton era.
"We were 1-9 here in my career," the UO mentor said. Oregon State is "a great program, well-coached. (Playing at Goss is a) tough environment.
"Not because it's the Beavers -- whenever you beat a good team under any circumstances, it's a good win for us. We have a lot more work to do against them this year, but we'll take it. it was a good victory."
The Beavers (25-6) had chances to score more runs early, leaving four runners in scoring position in the first three innings. The Ducks (24-8) had only seven hits but were more opportunistic.
"If they're going to give us free bases, we have some guys in the lineup who can hurt them," Payne said. "We were able to capitalize on that today."
"They took advantage of our mistakes," Casey said. "We didn't do a good job on the mound, for whatever reason. We battled real well after we got down 3-1. They hadn't hit a ball hard the first three innings, and we're down 3-1. We created our own problems.
"Usually it comes down to who plays baseball the best. We didn't play better than they played. We got back in it, but we made a mistake in the last inning. To get ahead 0-2 and leave a cookie in the middle of the plate there's no excuse for that."
Oregon also got an outstanding defensive play from Thomas, who robbed OSU's Michael Conforto of an extra-base hit with a leaping catch against the left-field wall in the fifth.
The teams annually play five games against each other -- a three-game Pac-12 series (this year at Eugene May 17-19) and two non-league games at the other team's venue.
The Beavers "are a top-ranked team, and our rival," Payne said. "It's a little more exciting than your normal midweek game."
Oregon State swept a three-game conference series from the Ducks here a year ago.
"We didn't do too well here last year," Payne said. "It's good to get started on the right foot."
The Beavers wanted badly to win this one, too.
"Though it's non-conference, everybody views it as a big game," Casey said. "They did a nice job. They beat us."