Surging UO baseball team eyes regional play
Led by some Oregon-bred players and a coach enjoying his first full season, the Oregon Ducks have high hopes for the college baseball postseason that begins Friday.
Oregon is the No. 14 national seed and hosting a four-team regional at PK Park after going 37-14 and finishing 20-10, one game back of champion Arizona in the Pac-12. The Ducks face Central Connecticut State at 2 p.m. June 4 to open the double-elimination regional. Gonzaga and LSU play in Friday's second game.
Oregon State (34-22) is in the Fort Worth Regional, facing Dallas Baptist at 11 a.m. PT Friday. TCU is the top seed in that region and McNeese the No. 4 seed.
Oregon coach Mark Wasikowski says the Ducks have high expectations.
"(Not winning the Pac-12) doesn't mean that we can't win a national championship, get into a regional and do things that haven't been done here in some time," he said. "So, we still have plenty to play for, and plenty out there to continue to improve upon in this program."
College baseball talk in the state has centered on Oregon State for years — for good reason. The Beavers have appeared in six College World Series since 2005, winning the championship three times.
The Ducks have been to one College World Series — in 1954. But, could this be Oregon's time to shine?
The Ducks won five of six games against the Beavers (including all three Pac-12 games) and climbed into the top-10 in multiple national rankings.
After Stanford took the third game of a dramatic series in 12 innings on May 23, a loss that ended Oregon's outright Pac-12 title hopes, Wasikowski said, "Obviously, we are still a program trying to learn how to win big games and we didn't do that (in that 8-5 loss). It takes some time to learn how to do that. And it probably takes some sting to learn how to do that, which is unfortunate."
The turnaround seems quick under Wasikowski, who replaced George Horton after the Ducks went 27-29 (10-19 Pac-12) in 2019. The Ducks enjoyed some early success in Horton's 10-year tenure, including going 46-19 in 2012, losing in the Super Regionals at home.
South Salem High grad Gabe Matthews is setting new program records with seemingly every at bat. The fifth-year senior owns program career records for hits, RBIs, doubles, multi-hit games, at-bats and consecutive starts. Matthews, hitting .326 with seven homers, is closing in on the program record for runs scored — he's six shy — and is 12 walks shy of that career record.
Fourth-year junior Kenyon Yovan out of Westview High, primarily a DH this season, is batting .314 with a team-best 14 home runs and 51 RBIs.
Sophomore outfielder Aaron Zavala is batting .398 with seven homers and 34 RBI. His .538 on-base percentage ranks second nationally. Shortstop Josh Kasevich (.332) and outfielder Tanner Smith (.324) were also hitting above .300.
Oregon's 3.52 ERA is 14th best in the country, and second best in the Pac-12 (just behind Oregon State's 3.42 ERA). The Ducks' .981 fielding percentage ranked 10th in the country, second in the Pac-12 behind Oregon State's .983 (fourth best nationally).
Junior Robert Ahlstrom (8-3, 2.41 ERA), a Eugene native, is the ace of a talented pitching staff. He is followed in the rotation by fellow juniors Cullen Kafka (5-3, 2.66 ERA) and Brett Walker (6-2, 3.67 ERA).
Junior left-hander Kolby Somers emerged as the closer and entered last week with 10 saves and a 2.42 ERA in 16 appearances. One of the Ducks' strengths is bullpen depth, which Wasikowski credits pitching coach Jake Angier for developing.
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