EUGENE — The Pac-12 Conference's baseball standings showed Oregon and Washington State to be on level ground at 7-5 entering a three-game series to close out this week.
For one night, at least, there was a huge gulf between the Ducks and Cougars. Oregon got seven shutout innings from Tommy Thorpe, scored 11 runs in the first six innings and played errorless defense to beat WSU 11-1 at PK Park on Thursday.
The No. 23 Ducks (29-10, 8-5 Pac-12) now find themselves tied with UCLA in third place in the conference, entering two more against Washington State today at 6 p.m. and Saturday at 2 p.m.
Freshman A.J. Balta led Oregon's offensive attack Thursday, going 3-for-5 with three RBIs and two runs, including a two-run homer in the fourth inning. He was the rare UO starter to go all nine innings, as the Ducks used 17 players.
"It's just really nice when the whole offense can come together," Balta said. "Whether you're starting or not, you can still contribute in these kinds of games."
The Ducks got a lot of help from the Cougars early on. Coming off a win over Oregon State a week earlier, WSU starter Joe Pistorese was betrayed by his defense, which committed three errors in Oregon's four-run first inning.
That surprised Oregon head coach George Horton, who knew the Cougars were used to playing on turf, and in wet conditions such as those Thursday.
"Coach Horton before the game told us the weather's not an advantage to us tonight," UO catcher Shaun Chase said. "And it actually was. "¦ That was really surprising to me."
Chase blasted a home run deep to left-center field in the fifth inning and also caught Thorpe's gem. Oregon's left-handed starter allowed two hits with two walks and struck out eight.
Going back to his effort April 4 at Washington, Thorpe has thrown 181/3 innings without allowing an earned run. In part, the surge owes to the emergence of a curveball and changeup to complement his fastball and slider.
Two of Thorpe's strikeouts Thursday were finished off by changeups.
"I enjoyed watching those because I hadn't had a changeup in a while," Thorpe said.
Horton originally planned to go to right-hander Jack Karraker to start the eighth in relief of Thorpe, but a mishap in the bullpen opened up a cut on his hand. Cooper Stiles finished the final two innings, allowing the lone WSU run.