Legendary baseball manager Casey Stengel once famous said, “Most ball games are lost, not won.” Despite the Ducks’ program-best 46-19 record and a brief spell as the nation’s No. 1 team last season, it was the game they didn’t win that has lingered over the program.
After earning the right to host a Super Regional with a shot at the College World Series on the line, Oregon lost to Kent State 3-2 in the last of a three-game series. The abrupt defeat ended the season — and the team’s hopes for its first CWS appearance since 1954.
During Wednesday’s Media Day, sophomore Jake Reed was blunt when asked what came to mind when he reflected on his freshman campaign.
“Last year’s Super Regional. Just a game away from Omaha.” Reed said. “I know it’s only our fifth year, and we’re proud of (Oregon’s) other sports, but we want to be one of those sports that can win a national title and compete with some of the best teams in the country.”
Manager George Horton also made it clear the otherwise stellar season fell short of expectations.
“When you’re the No. 5 national seed, and you don’t accomplish going to the College World Series,” Horton said, “some people would argue that’s a failure.”
Between April 27 and May 25 of last year, Oregon went 15-1, outscoring opponents 76-43. The Ducks also showed mental toughness by winning six of those games by just a single run.
Then, just before the postseason, the wheels came off. In a three-game Civil War series in Corvallis, Oregon lost 7-3, 3-2 and 5-0. The sweep equalled the Ducks’ longest losing streak of the year and ran their season record against the Beavers to 1-4, by far the worst of any opponent the team played.
So how did things go so wrong so fast?
“We kind of had a situation where we were playing really well,” Reed said. “At the top of the Pac, in the Top 10, and we started having these expectations.”
Fellow pitcher Christian Jones agreed Oregon got a little ahead of itself.
“It seemed like when we thought about (the hype) in the past, it kind of crept in,” Jones said. “We had to play to that, we had to play up to that level, and we had a target on our back. If we don’t worry about where we stand, where other people stand, we’ll be fine. We’ll be great.”
The experience from last year, coupled with senior leadership from players like shortstop J.J. Altobelli, may help the Ducks should they find themselves in a similar situation come June.
“We just have to stay focused and not worry so much about the results,” Altobelli said. “And be more concerned about getting better every day and staying focused on the little things. … We still didn’t accomplish anything last year that we wanted to, so we still have to go into it thinking we still have something to prove.”