Oregon wants respect; Horton says earn it
After 28 years, last season’s baseball team was reinstated with much pomp and circumstance. Oregon hired one of the top coaches in the nation in George Horton and recruited a team full of talent.
Then the season came, and despite winning the first game in 28 years and winning the first series against Fresno State at PK Park, the Ducks finished 14-42. Now, in this second season, the Ducks look to start the rise from new kid on the block to legitimate Pacific-10 Conference contender. It won’t be easy with the schedule laid before them, but Horton and his team are ready to start.
“We are very anxious to start competing with somebody in a different color uniform,” Horton said.
The season will start on Friday with a familiar opponent for Horton. Oregon will play Cal State Fullerton tonight at 7 p.m. in Fullerton, Calif. — the team Horton left to come to Eugene.
At Cal State, Horton guided the Titans to a 490-212-1 record in 11 seasons. In 2004, Horton and the Titans won the College World Series title and he was the two-time national coach of the year in 2003 and 2004. He also won a championship with the Titans as an assistant coach in 1995.
“We have a pretty good opener,” Horton said. “I understand Cal State Fullerton is pretty good at baseball. They’re ranked very high and we’re familiar with the environment, and that should be exciting and challenging.”
Horton isn’t the only one with connections to Fullerton. Assistant coach Mike Kirby played for Horton at Cerritos College in Norwalk, Calif., and was an assistant in Fullerton from 1991 to 1999. Sophomore Danny Pulfer was also recruited by the Titans, and his commitment to Oregon caused some unhappy feelings in Fullerton.
“When I was being recruited here, I was committed to (University of California, Irvine) with coach (Dave) Serrano, and heavily recruited by Fullerton,” Pulfer said. “When I committed here, they were a little bitter about it. Going down there will be a lot of fun because I’m from that area and I’ll be playing against friends, and I have a lot of respect for that program.”
But Oregon’s weekend will not be against just Fullerton. On Saturday, the Ducks play at Long Beach State at 5:30 p.m., followed by a Sunday matchup with Pepperdine at 1 p.m. and Loyola Marymount at 2 p.m. Monday. It’s a Southern California swing that will give the Ducks a chance to play in a warmer climate while facing some of the toughest teams on the West Coast outside of the Pac-10.
“These first four games will be very tough,” Horton said. “We like to challenge ourselves with scheduling tough opponents right out of the gates because it gives us a pretty good barometer of what we have to work on and what you need to do.”
Horton acknowledged that the four game series against four different teams in four different venues is a tough way to start the season, but he has confidence in his starting four pitchers. Sophomore Tyler Anderson, who was last year’s opening-day starter, will be on the mound against the Titans. Senior Justin LaTempa will likely start on Saturday, followed by sophomore Scott McGough on Sunday and senior Zack Thornton on Monday.
The starting nine batters have also been finalized, with five returning starters from last year taking their spots. Sophomore KC Serna will again start at shortstop and he says he’s just ready for the season to start.
“I’m just looking forward to the whole season,” Serna said. “I’m looking forward for us getting closer as a team.”
Ultimately, the start to the 2010 season means a chance for the Ducks to prove to the nation they aren’t just a new program and they are actually a legitimate team. Horton knows the team will have to earn the respect one game at a time.
“To gain anyone’s respect you have to earn it, and I hope they take that to heart,” Horton said.
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