EUGENE — Despite early struggles typical of most freshmen, University of Oregon baseball coach George Horton isn’t giving up on Roseburg High graduate Josh Graham.
Given the chance to start on Sunday, Graham rewarded Horton’s patience with the biggest game of his young career.
Graham, a true-freshman catcher, went 2-for-3 with three RBIs to help the 13th-ranked Ducks build a five-run lead over Arizona and hold on for a 7-6 win, completing a series sweep of the defending National Champions at PK Park.
The Ducks (18-6, 5-1 Pac-12) took a 7-3 lead into the ninth inning but the Wildcats (15-11, 0-6) rallied for three runs before stranding the tying run at second base. Third baseman Kevin Minjares, a defensive replacement in the ninth, roamed nearly to second base on a slow chopper by Zach Gibbons, throwing the batter out by half a step at first to clinch the win for Oregon.
Graham — who helped the Indians to back-to-back Class 6A state semifinal appearances and was twice named Southern Oregon Hybrid MVP — had been 2-for-28 at the plate coming into the game. Against the Wildcats, though, he hit three milestones: first Pac-12 hit, first multi-hit game and first multi-RBI game.
Graham gave the Ducks a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second with a RBI double to left field that scored Scott Heineman, who led off the inning with a single and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Tyler Baumgartner.
Oregon added two runs in the bottom of the third to push the lead to 3-0. Mitchell Tolman picked up a RBI on a bloop single to centerfield scoring Brett Thomas, while Graham added a RBI on a bases-loaded hit off the leg of pitcher Tyler Crawford to score Healy.
Freshman Cole Irvin (4-1) picked up the victory, while Jeff Gold delivered 2 2/3 innings of relief, allowing just two hits while striking out two. Garrett Cleavinger hit the only batter he faced in the ninth before giving way to All-American Jimmie Sherfy. The Ducks closer struck out the first two batters he faced before giving up three straight RBI hits to the Wildcats, who cut the lead to one.
Ryon Healy was 2-for-3 with two RBIs and a run scored. Thomas finished 2-for-3 with a RBI and two runs scored, and Tolman was 2-for-5 with a run scored.
OREGON STATE 4, ARIZONA STATE 3 — In Corvallis, Max Engelbrekt and Scott Schultz combined for 42/3 innings of scoreless relief Sunday to help the third-ranked Beavers hold off No. 20 Arizona State at Goss Stadium to claim a series win.
Engelbrekt came on in relief of Dan Child in the fifth and worked 31/3 innings, holding the Sun Devils to two hits and four walks. The lefty improved to 3-0 with the win.
Schultz, meanwhile, picked up the save after going 11/3 innings. He held ASU to one hit and struck out one — the only strikeout picked up by the OSU staff.
Arizona State threatened in the ninth, putting a runner at first when Max Rossiter singled. Johnny Sewald, pinch running for Rossiter, moved to second on a sacrifice bunt and was forced to stay at second on a 6-3 groundout.
Sewald, however, was caught at third attempting to steal to end the game.
Michael Conforto hit what turned out to be the game-winning sacrifice fly in the fourth. The towering shot to right enabled Max Gordon to score the club’s fourth run of the game. OSU (21-2, 5-1 Pac-12) scored three in the fifth, with Kavin Keyes scoring a sacrifice fly and Rodriguez scoring on an error on a pickoff throw.
ASU (13-7-1, 2-4) scored two in the fifth but Engelbrekt shut the door on the Sun Devils to end the inning.
The teams combined for just 12 hits compared to 18 walks — each side walked nine. Trever Allen had three hits to pace Arizona State, while four different OSU players had one hit apiece.
Neither starter lasted into the fifth inning. Oregon State’s Ben Wetzler worked 41/3 innings and did not figure in the decision. He allowed five hits and three runs with three walks.