The Oregon baseball team lost on senior night, won three fewer regular season games than it did last year and will travel to Nashville for Regionals, Oregon’s first round on the road since 2010. If the Ducks don’t advance to Super Regionals, head coach George Horton and his team won’t look back on this season with smiles.
“The challenge to this year’s group, like the last couple, was to finish,” Horton said after Saturday’s 5-3 loss to California. “So far, we’re on the verge of not finishing again.”
No one can blame the Ducks for their lofty expectations, especially after failing to reach the College World Series the past two seasons. But they should appreciate this season no matter what happens these next few weeks.
“We’re going to playoffs,” outfielder Kyle Garlick said. “That’s where we want to be.”
If anyone knew before this season that Matt Krook would miss a huge chunk of the season and Cole Irvin would miss all of it, few would have predicted 42 wins for this team. Add Scott Heineman’s lost year and those same prognosticators would likely question Oregon’s chances of making the postseason.
Injuries weren’t the only issues, either. In many games, more than half of Oregon’s starters were freshmen and only Krook came in with expectations of immediate impact. Several freshman were practically forced to play right away, given the massive holes left by several key contributors. The Ducks even converted a starting pitcher (Jake Reed) to replace one of the nation’s best closers in Jimmie Sherfy.
But somehow, Oregon replaced seniors and injured stars with quality players, giving the Ducks a chance to achieve their dream of bliss in Omaha.
Jeff Gold became Oregon’s most consistent pitcher — before struggling as of late — after being slotted as a fourth starter at best.
Shaun Chase hit .207 last season and shared playing time with Josh Graham and freshman Jack Kruger at catcher earlier this year. But Chase locked the job down by hitting the cover off the ball (.281 batting average, Pac-12-leading 12 home runs) to go along with his solid defense.
Kevin Minjares started the season at shortstop but ended up a backup due to the emergence of Mark Karaviotis. The freshman posted a .371 on-base percentage, which is gravy considering how masterful he performed on defense.
Mitchell Tolman (.315/.441/.458 slash line) progressed as a hitter, freshman Austin Grebeck played hero multiple times, Tommy Thorpe pitched like an ace, Reed’s move to closer proved to be a success and the Ducks played No. 1 Oregon State tough in nearly every game, winning once.
“I think we’ve done a great job of getting past everything and staying positive with what we have,” outfielder Steven Packard said. “Hopefully, we can carry that into the postseason.”
Oregon’s main goal should be to perform well in regionals and potentially beyond, but success in a 60-game regular season shouldn’t be erased by a poor performance in a few regional games. Even if the postseason ends in disappointment, the Ducks can go into next season knowing they can win the College World Series if the breaks finally go their way.
Follow Victor Flores on Twitter @vflores415