The Oregon baseball team (44-20, 18-12) finished short of their goal: Omaha. But with all things considered, the actuality of attaining that goal was slim.
However, they shouldn’t hang their heads.
The Ducks finished fourth in one of the most difficult conferences (Pac-12), if not the most difficult, in the country. They were just five games out of first place. They proved that their younger players, especially freshman, will lead this team down the road. They proved that their offense is good enough, along with a healthy pitching staff, to make them a Pac-12 powerhouse. They proved they could win with some of their star players injured and that anyone on that team is capable of stepping up.
Unlike any other game, baseball can’t be predicted. Oregon could have gone to the Super Regionals this year, even to Omaha. What can be predicted though, is that Oregon’s flight to Omaha isn’t going to surprise anyone when they do go.
A year in review, here’s what happened:
The Oregon baseball team had a lot of hype heading into the 2014 season. The then No. 11 ranked Ducks had a dominate starting rotation in the making. Headlined by junior Tommy Thorpe and a bullpen that was expected to be just as strong even with former starter Jake Reed replacing All-American Jimmie Sherfy as the team’s closer. They had a lineup that saw Kyle Garlick return, after missing much of the 2013 season, due to injury, as well as a group of freshman who were trying to earn a starting job.
But as soon as the Ducks started practicing, a key player went down with a season-ending injury. Last year’s win leader Cole Irvin, just 11 days before their opener against Hawaii, needed to undergo Tommy John surgery and missed the entire 2014 season.
Irvin on the bench was no doubt a big loss for the Ducks, but if there was one thing Oregon had, it was depth in their staff. Matt Krook became the Saturday starter and Jeff Gold became a Sunday man, who proved to be one of the Pac-12′s best pitchers.
Just 20 days after the news about Irvin broke, Scott Heineman strained his shoulder on a swing at Loyola Marymount. He did return within a month, but wasn’t the same and surgery was required. The injury allowed freshman AJ Balta to get some time in the starting lineup, and he became a powerful force early in the season – Balta finished with three home runs, 29 RBIs and 12 doubles.
Once again, it was Ducks pickin’ up Ducks.
At the end of February the Ducks were undefeated and ranked No. 9, with No. 5 Cal State Fullerton coming into town. This series was a chance for the Ducks to test themselves and see how they could do against one of the best programs in the country. Oregon got swept. But with the series so early in the season, it allowed Oregon to learn what they needed to improve upon before conference play began.
The Ducks won all but one of their remaining five games before conference play began against USC. This included a 20-4 victory over Ohio State, which set the record for runs in a single game since the program was reinstated in 2009.
After a tough road trip down south during the school’s spring break, the No. 19 Ducks went to Seattle to play a key series against their rivals. Washington sat atop the Pac-12 standings and Oregon was looking to make a statement. Oregon took game one but lost the remaining two games – including a extra inning game where Oregon had a two run lead in the top of the final inning.
Then Oregon got back on track with a nine-game winning streak heading to the Oregon State series. But, just days before the teams met in Corvallis, Krook – who had been dealing with a nagging injury – finally had a decision on his throwing arm: Tommy John surgery. Heading into the biggest series of the year, freshman Trent Paddon, who was pitching well while freshman Krook was getting medical opinions, was given the ball. He didn’t make it out of the second inning and Oregon got swept.
The Ducks finished their season 11-5, but their final series with California was thought to give the Ducks a chance to host an NCAA Regional tournament with an eight-game winning streak. Oregon dropped the final two games.
When Oregon was selected to head to Nashville, Tennessee on Vanderbilt’s campus, the Ducks were going to go as far as their pitching staff could take them. Oregon came out with a bang in an 18-1 win over Clemson, led by back-to-back home runs from Shaun Chase and Tyler Baumgartner. But when Oregon played the host, Vanderbilt, they could only come up with two runs in a 2-7 loss. Oregon beat Xavier in extra innings to send Oregon to the finals, where they would need to win two games to move on to a Super Regional. But Vanderbilt advanced in just one game.
When it was all said and done the Ducks finished 44-20 and 18-12 in conference.
Follow Andrew Bantly @abant3