WALNUT, Calif. — Ashton Eaton learned the hard way that experience often trumps talent and athleticism.
The reigning Olympic Gold medalist and current world record holder in the decathlon competed in the 400-meter hurdles for the first time in his life at the Mount SAC Relays on Saturday and finished fourth in 50.01 seconds.
"I had no expectations," Eaton said. "It was very interesting. It was different. When I wanted to make moves like I would have in the 400 (meters) a hurdle would come so I'd slow down."
Eaton declared his intention to compete in the 400 hurdles last fall, but said he never practiced the event leading up to Mt. SAC.
"This was the first time. I did 300 meters in practice once," he said. "I still train as a decathlete, but sometimes I just throw hurdles in front of my workouts I guess."
Jeshua Anderson won the race in 49.43. When he crossed the finish line, Eaton simply smiled and shrugged his shoulders.
"We wanted to try it and Mt. SAC was kind enough to let us try it here, so now we see where we go," Eaton said. "I feel confident that I can compete. If I get my steps down I think I'll be pretty good to go.
"I don't think there's any reason I wouldn't be able to run 48 now after doing the race. Beforehand I had no idea, but now I think 48 is possible."
While Eaton was the headliner of the 56th annual daylong event, Oregon senior Phyllis Francis stole the show.
Francis defeated Olympic medalists DeeDee Trotter and Lashinda Demus in the 400 earlier in the day, claiming the Elite Invitational title in 51.57.
"I was just shaking at the line," she said. "Trotter said something and I was like 'Oh my gosh she said something to me.' I think it was 'Good luck'."
The nerves clearly dissipated as soon as the gun went off.
Francis started slow but recovered to overtake Trotter in the final 100 meters and crossed the finish line 0.85 seconds ahead of Trotter.
"I'm just taking it in very slowly, I'm very humbled by it," she said. "It was an honor to run in the same heat as them. I watched them on TV and rooted for them, so it was great to be next to them and compete with them."
Demus, who won a silver medal in the 400 hurdles at the 2012 Olympics, finished fourth in 52.82.
Francis' victory came on what quickly turned into a banner day for Oregon. She also ran a leg on the Ducks' 4x100 team won in a world-leading time of 43.31.
Francis teamed up with Marybeth Sant, Jenna Prandini and Jasmine Todd to lead the Ducks to the title in a field that included two professional teams and Nigeria's national team.
Prandini and Laura Roesler contributed to Oregon's haul as well, winning the women's Elite 100 and 800 meters, respectively.
"It's a good day, just showing that all our hard work is coming together because we're working our behinds off back in Oregon," Francis said. "We're only improving and going to get better."
Natasha Hastings, who won a gold medal as part of the U.S. 4x100 team at the 2008 Olympics, won the women's 200 in 22.71, beating out fellow Olympic medalists Bianca Knight and Blessing Okagbare.
Texas Tech was the only college other than Oregon with a winner in multiple Elite events. Kennedy Kithuka won the men's 5,000 in 13:26.98 and Hannah Carson won the women's javelin with a throw of 174-4.
OREGON 2, WASHINGTON STATE 1 — At Eugene, Austin Grebeck didn't start in Oregon's win over Washington State at PK Park, but he ended the Cougars best chance to avoid a sweep at the hands of the Ducks.
Grebeck, who entered the game as a pinch-runner in the bottom of the seventh inning, threw out Nick Tanielu at second for the final out of the eighth inning after the WSU third baseman took too big a turn on a base hit by Luke Stratman. Shortstop Mark Karaviotis took Grebeck's throw and tagged out Tanielu before Michael Monda could score from second base on the hit.
Grebeck got the chance to be the hero on defense after a couple of clutch hits by A.J. Balta and Tyler Baumgartner. After WSU took a 1-0 lead with a run in the top half of the inning, Oregon answered with two runs in the bottom half of the inning.
Balta tied the game when he ripped a double on the first pitch he saw with two outs into right field scoring Shaun Chase, who led off the inning with a walk, from second base. Baumgartner followed with a RBI single that just eluded shortstop Trace Tam Sing scoring Balta from second.
Freshman Trent Paddon, making his second start of the season, kept Oregon in the game early as the Ducks (31-10, 10-5 Pac-12) struggled against Washington State (17-19, 7-8 Pac-12) starter Jason Monda.
Paddon (1-2) picked up his first career win, allowing just one run on five hits with six strikeouts in six innings. Monda (1-4) took the loss, despite allowing just one hit over the first five innings, after allowing two runs on three hits with three walks and two strikeouts.
Baumgartner helped Paddon on defense as well by gunning down Tanielu at home to end the fourth inning and keep the game scoreless.
Aaron Payne became the all-time steals leader at Oregon when he stole his 41st career base in the bottom of the eighth. Balta led Oregon with two of the team's four hits.