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Stavert kills UCLA softly with his curve.

Byline: COLLEGE BASEBALL By Adam Jude The Register-Guard

Erik Stavert didn't pay much attention to UCLA's multi-million-dollar arm Friday afternoon, but like everyone at PK Park, the Oregon ace certainly heard the pop of Gerrit Cole's 98 mph fastballs punishing the catcher's glove.

Stavert's response?

Slow down.

The UO junior right-hander out-pitched Cole, the New York Yankees' first-round draft pick last summer, and outwitted the UCLA hitters with a series of breaking balls to lead the Ducks to a 3-2 victory in the opener of a Pac-10 baseball series before an announced crowd of 2,204.

"It feels like a World Series win to me," UO coach George Horton said afterward.

The Ducks (14-29, 4-12 Pac-10) had lost 14 of 15 and seven straight entering the game, Stavert's first as the Friday starter.

"I just tried to stick with what I've been doing," Stavert said, "because it's been working."

It worked again. Stavert (5-3) allowed six hits and only one run while striking out eight over eight innings, and the UO offense took advantage of three UCLA errors to beat the lightning-fast Cole (4-4).

Oregon then survived a dramatic ninth inning in which the Bruins scored a run to pull within 3-2 and loaded the bases off UO closer Drew Gagnier, who eventually got Blair Dunlap on a checked-swing third strike to end the game.

"When you're struggling, it just doesn't seem to ever come easy," Horton said. "But we'll take it."

The Ducks staked Stavert a rare 2-1 lead entering the eighth inning, when UCLA (20-22, 11-8) threatened with runners on first and third with one out and the middle of the lineup coming to the plate.

Stavert got ahead of UCLA cleanup hitter Cody Decker 0-2, then got Decker to swing and miss at a 73 mph curveball for the second out.

It was the same recipe for Casey Haerther, whom Stavert struck out on three straight curveballs, with Haerther also missing badly on the third strike.

"That's not normal," UO catcher Mitch Karraker said of the four straight breaking balls. "That's like a big-league thing.

"No one throws three straight breaking balls - much less four in a row. But he manned up today."

Stavert didn't flinch when Karraker called for the off-speed pitches.

"They were struggling with the breaking ball all day, so it was working for me," Stavert said. "The guy had already shown he couldn't hit it, so just get it over the plate and he'll whiff."

Despite allowing just two unearned runs in a complete game against Washington last week, Stavert took the loss as the UO offense again struggled. But, as center fielder Caleb Tommasini noted, the Ducks have a "different energy" when Stavert pitches.

"We need to enjoy him while he's here, because who knows?" Tommasini said of Stavert, who is eligible for the MLB draft this summer. "I think we have a different mentality at the plate when he pitches.

"I feel like when he's on the mound, our team has a different energy, just because we know he's going to do what he does."

The Ducks also knew what to expect from Cole.

"He threw the first pitch, I put my foot down and it was by me already," said Tommasini, the UO leadoff hitter. "It was harder than I thought he was going to throw."

Even so, Cole might have been a better matchup for an Oregon lineup that has consistently struggled against off-speed pitches.

"We loved it," Karraker said. "We've been having trouble with soft lefties and breaking pitches, and then to see 98 we're like, `Oh, boy. Gimme that fastball.'?"

And while the Ducks didn't exactly pound the ball off Cole (two of their six hits were bunt singles), they did finally take advantage of someone else's mistakes for a change.

Curtis Raulinaitis led off the fourth inning with a double to right and advanced to third on KC Serna's deep fly to left. UCLA second baseman Eddie Murray's error on Paul Eshleman's slow grounder allowed Raulinaitis to score to give the Ducks a 1-0 lead.

Tommasini led off the sixth with a sharp line-drive single off Cole, moved to second on a Raulinaitis sacrifice bunt and to third on Serna's bunt single.

Cole then appeared to have Serna picked off at first - but Serna extended a rundown between first and second long enough for Murray to make an errant throw that allowed Tommasini to score from third.

It stayed 2-0 until UCLA's Niko Gallego dropped in a double in front of a diving Raulinaitis in the seventh inning, scoring Gabe Cohen to make it 2-1.

Oregon added its final run in the eighth when Tommasini was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning and later scored on a Serna's sacrifice fly to short right field, a popup caught by Murray near the foul line. Tommasini slid home just ahead of the throw.

Gagnier then struck out the first two batters he faced in the ninth, but he walked two straight and hit another batter before finally closing out the much-needed Oregon win.

"This one was pretty sweet," Gagnier said. "We've been struggling, but it's good to get the ball rolling."

Oregon vs. UCLA

11 a.m. today at PK Park. TV: None. Radio: KUJZ-FM (95.3).


Oregon 3, UCLA 2

Turning Point: With one out and UCLA runners on first and third, Erik Stavert threw four straight curveballs to strike out Cody Decker and Casey Haerther to end the inning with Oregon's 3-1 lead intact.

Notes: UCLA assistant coach Rick Vanderhook coached with UO coach Horton for 17 seasons at Cal State Fullerton, and Vanderhook was Horton's top choice to replace him as head coach there. "He's one of the best coaches I've ever worked with," Horton said.

Next: The Ducks and Bruins play the second game of the series at 11 a.m. today. The game time was moved up from its scheduled 1 p.m. start because of Oregon's spring football game next door at Autzen Stadium, which kicks off at 2 p.m.

TV/Radio: Today's game will be broadcast on KUJZ-AM (95.3). There is no TV coverage.
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Title Annotation:Baseball Oregon; The Oregon junior gives the Bruins a steady diet of breaking balls in a 3-2 win
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:May 2, 2009
Previous Article:Leake survives close calls.
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