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Injuries take toll on Pilots baseball

Chris Sperry slumped into a chair in his cubbyhole office at the Chiles Center Tuesday night.

Sperry has suffered a lot of losing during his 17 years as the University of Portland's baseball coach, but 2014 has been an especially painful year.

A ninth-inning rally fell short as Portland lost 9-6 to Oregon State, the 13th straight loss this season for the Pilots (5-23) and their 20th successive setback to the Beavers dating to 2006. The Pilots have begun West Coast Conference play 0-9.

"It's hard on all of us," Sperry said. "This is a group that has a really good work ethic, and they care. That's all you can ask for, but it doesn't make it anything easier.

"You're still disappointed when you don't get the results you want, but you saw the guys fight to the end. We didn't embarrass ourselves at least."

The season began on a high note when the Pilots knocked off defending national champion and 12th-ranked UCLA 1-0 in the season opener at Westwood. It's been all downhill from there.

Sperry's pitching staff has been depleted by injury and illness. The top four starters at the start of the season -- junior left-hander Travis Radke, junior right-handers Kurt Yinger and Kody Watts and freshman right-hander Austin Kelly -- have been limited to 17 combined starts. Three of them did not accompany the team on its trip to Pepperdine last weekend. Watts is feared lost for the season.

"Out starting pitching is what we've tried to build on the last several years," Sperry said. "With so many guys missing, that's not been a strength this season."

On top of that, starting catcher Bo Cornish is out for another three weeks with a broken finger.

"We have a lot of guys beat up right now," Sperry says.

Offense has been the biggest problem. Portland entered Tuesday's game with .208 batting average. The Pilots scored as many runs against Oregon State as they had in the previous six games combined.

"The offensive part has been really frustrating," Sperry said. "It's been a real struggle. We need more offense. The days we put up a few runs we put ourselves in a hole early. We're down 6-0 or 7-0 and then we're playing catch-up."

Portland has no regulars hitting better than .275. Sperry started four freshman position players Tuesday, including third baseman Davis Tominaga and catcher Devin Kopas, who each had two hits to raise his season average to .344.

"Some of the older guys we were counting on have really struggled," Sperry said. "Today was a day where it was, 'Let's get some new blood in the lineup and shake things up a little bit.' "

Sperry paused.

"Still, the losing wears on you," he said. "It's hard."

The Pilots will start freshman infielder Kevin Wade on the mound Wednesday when they visit Seattle University for a non-league contest. There's simply nobody else available as Sperry saves what is left of his staff for a weekend series at Santa Clara.

But all is not lost.

"Hopefully, our guys get on that bus (Wednesday) and say, 'Hey, if we play like we did (Tuesday) …"

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