Long-Absent Ducks Flock Back to Evans for Series Against Bears

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Get ready for an unfamiliar sound coming from Evans Diamond this weekend:

The quack of the bat.

Oregon, a school that hadn't had a baseball team before this year since 1981, brings its new squad and wide array of uniform options to Berkeley for a three-game series beginning today at 2:30 p.m.

The Ducks folded their program 28 years ago because of budget cuts but brought it back this season with an expensive new stadium and a roster filled out by 16 true freshmen, a number of transfers and only one senior in infielder Andrew Schmidt.

So far, they've experienced some growing pains easing back into collegiate and Pac-10 competition. A .237 team batting average and total of 14 home runs -- one more than the Pac-10's individual leader -- won't turn any heads. But what makes Oregon dangerous, according to Cal coach David Esquer, is the ability to keep games close.

"What we know about them is they pitch very well," Esquer said. "They've got some good young pitching and they keep the score down and then look for a break or two to turn the game their way when it's late. And I think for the most part that's how they've won games.

"I don't think they've shown the power or offensive numbers to take a game and run with it yet, but I think they rely on their pitching and that's going to put the pressure back on our offense."

The Bears are an almost polar opposite, relying since the beginning of the season on a powerful lineup to balance out a somewhat inexperienced pitching staff that currently has a combined ERA of 5.85.

Not surprisingly, Cal's recent eight-game slide coincided with a stretch of less consistent performances from the offense.

"Virtually every coach that we played early in the season remarked on how good an offensive team we are and we kind of lost that," Esquer said. "To be quite honest, if you're going to have a strength, that's probably the most volatile strength to have."

Wednesday showed just how explosive the Bears can be as they put up a season-high 21 runs against UC Davis to snap out of their slump. Esquer has sent out a shuffled lineup for the past couple games with Mark Canha batting third and Michael Brady -- who has moved around everywhere between the second and ninth spots in the lineup this year -- hitting behind him.

"He's had some pretty decent at-bats and he's been a little tougher out," Esquer said of Brady. "That spot, backing up Mark Canha, you've got to go with any hot hand that gives us a chance to get people to pitch to him."

After using both Brian Diemer and Matt Flemer -- weekend starters in recent series -- on Wednesday, Esquer said that freshman Erik Johnson and junior Chris Petrini are both probable for starts against the Ducks. Cal will likely pitch by committee from there.


Contact Matt Kawahara at [email protected]

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