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Ducks feel painful playoff deja vu

Despite regional loss, Horton says CWS in the offing for Oregon


EUGENE — For the second consecutive year, the University of Oregon baseball season lost a deciding playoff game at PK Park and missed the College World Series.

After Oregon fell to Rice 11-4 on Monday, Ducks coach George Horton asked himself four questions and answered each one in turn.

Horton: “Are we satisfied?” No. Are we close? Yes. Does it hurt? Yes. Are we going to bust the door down? Yes.”

Oregon’s 48-16 record for 2013 gave the school its most wins in one baseball season.

The Ducks rarely won big or pretty; they relied on pitching and defense to make up for a .258 team batting average. More often than not, that was a formula for success, especially playing inside spacious PK Park.

Horton says the Ducks will play the same brand of baseball next season.

“The real excellence of our team, whether it’s exciting and brings fans here or not, is the pitching and the defense,” he says. “Unless we change the dimensions, or the turf, to think we’re going to be an offensive juggernaut every day here at PK Park, I don’t see that happening.”

Junior left fielder Tyler Baumgartner — who is not expected to turn pro — agrees that it will be difficult for Oregon to change its stripes next year and become an offensive force.

“It’s going to be tough,” he says. “But the coaches do a good job preparing us. We’ll be ready for next year. We just have to play our game.”

Oregon had just three hitters who batted over .300: Ryon Healy (.333), Brett Thomas (.317) and Mitchell Tolman (.315). Healy accounted for 11 of Oregon’s 24 home runs. No

other Duck hit more than four. Healy also led the Oregon with 56 RBIs.

Tolman is a freshman and will be back next season. Thomas, a junior, also is likely to

return.

Healy is expected to go in a good spot in the MLB draft, which is Thursday through Saturday, and would then have to decide whether he signs a professional contract or stays in Eugene.

“I don’t know what my future is going to hold,” Healy says. “This week will determine it. But, whether I leave, or whether I stay, the University of Oregon is by far the most important thing that’s ever happened to my life and my baseball career.”

Oregon also will lose senior third baseman Ryan Hambright and senior shortstop J.J.

Altobelli.

“We’re going to have to replace a shortstop who is arguably the best in the country and as good as anyone I’ve ever coached,” Horton said.

Oregon will have all three of its regular starting pitchers back next season in sophomore Tommy Thorpe (7-5, 2.16 ERA), freshman Cole Irvin (12-3, 2.48) and sophomore Jake Reed (6-5, 3.10.

“We’ve got a good nucleus of pitching,” Horton says.

Jimmie Sherfy, the Ducks’ junior closer who went 2-0 with a 1.63 ERA and 21 saves, could be back next year as well, although he is projected to be a reasonably high draft pick.

“He’s had a brilliant last two years,” Horton says. “When you have 48 wins and a guy has something to do with 21 of them, that’s pretty special. He’s got a tremendous future in professional baseball.”

Horton says Oregon has “a pretty good recruiting class (coming next year), if we don’t get devastated by the draft.”

Perhaps the biggest hole the Ducks have to fill will be the winning mentality that many of the departing seniors and players likely to go in the draft brought to the ballclub.

“We have to replace a bunch of winners,” Horton says.

Horton says he is confident the Ducks can do that. And he is confident enough to make a promise. Someday, Horton says, the Ducks will be playing in Omaha, at the College World Series. And Horton, who just finished his fifth season at the helm in Eugene, says he plans to be the skipper when that happens.

“We’re going to go to Omaha sooner or later,” he says. “The names will be different on the roster, but we’re going to go to Omaha, I assure you. And I’m going to be the coach.”