The Oregon baseball team gathered at The Cooler Restaurant and Bar Monday morning, eyes glued to the TV, which was showing the college baseball Regionals selection show. As the players finished up their plates full of eggs, bacon, hash browns and biscuits, a graphic for the Nashville Regional appeared on the screen — Oregon’s name popped up right above Clemson’s, eliciting cheers and applause from the restaurant’s crowd, which included some of the team members’ family and friends. The Ducks will face the Tigers Friday at 10 a.m. PST.
“The fact that we’re one of the last 64 standing, I’m very proud of that fact,” Oregon head coach George Horton told the crowd.
This is Oregon’s third straight Regional appearance and its first on the road since 2010. The Ducks went 42-18 during the 2014 regular season, three games worse than last year’s regular season record. They were ousted by Rice in last year’s Regional round, which was held in Eugene. Oregon reached the Super Regionals the year before and lost to Kent State in heartbreaking fashion.
Indiana, Virginia and San Luis Obispo, California were three possible destinations Horton and his staff discussed, and he said he and some of his players had “mixed feelings” about the draw because he and several Ducks have family close to San Luis Obispo. But Horton sees a benefit in traveling east instead of staying west.
“It’s kind of refreshing if you’re not hosting to get out of the west and not play the same teams that are familiar with you,” Horton told reporters after the selection show concluded.
The Ducks are coming off two straight losses to California, which came directly after a dominant start from Tommy Thorpe and a 6-2 win over Oregon State, the No. 1 national seed who beat Oregon the previous four meetings. The Ducks will also be without three of their best players — Cole Irvin, Matt Krook and Scott Heineman — who are all lost for the season due to injuries. Third baseman Mitchell Tolman believes this kind of adversity going into the postseason can be beneficial, though.
“Personally, I like it when people don’t really have a lot of belief in you,” Tolman said.
Horton isn’t happy with how this past weekend turned out, but he pointed out the road defending national champion UCLA took at the end of last season. Before going on their title run, the Bruins won a midweek game but lost two of three to a Bay Area team (Stanford) on the regular season’s final weekend.
“There are 64 teams, everybody has an equal opportunity and the team that gets the hottest and can sustain that over a lengthy period of time is going to be the national champion,” Horton said.
Oregon and Oregon State are two of five Pac-12 schools in the round of 64. Washington, Stanford and Arizona State are the other three and it, like Oregon, are all playing on the road in regionals. Horton said he was shocked when he saw the 16 regional host sites last night and Oregon State was the only Pac-12 team on the list, especially considering the conference’s recent success in the College World Series.
“West of the Rockies just doesn’t seem to quite get the respect that SEC football does,” said Horton, who believes Washington deserved to be a host.
Thorpe has lasted at least five innings and has given up three runs or less in each of his last eight starts, which was capped off by his first complete game of the season Friday. But Thorpe might have a tough matchup Friday in Daniel Gossett, who owns a 1.78 earned-run average and 102 strikeouts against 30 walks.
“If they do throw me Friday against him, I’m ready to go,” Thorpe said.
Horton said Oregon’s pitching rotation will depend on matchups. The Ducks will spend this week determining which gameplans will work best against Clemson, as well as Nashville’s No. 4 seed Xavier and No. 1 seed Vanderbilt. Horton said the slate is now clean, and he hopes his team can make a run like UCLA did last year.
“It’s always nice to be invited to the dance,” Horton said. “Now, we just have to dance.”
Follow Victor Flores on Twitter @vflores415