Clark: Injuries taking their toll on Ducks’ baseball and softball title contentions

Considering everything head coaches Mike White and George Horton have been dealt this spring, it comes as no surprise that their respective teams came out a little worse for the wear this weekend.@@no surprise? [email protected]@

Each program has been plagued with more injuries than one should count, and adding to the sting is the fact that, despite their tattered rosters, both teams had a shot at winning the Pac-12 title.@@can we had this as a hyperlink?[email protected]@

That seems increasingly unlikely for White and the Oregon softball team, who lost two of three games to top-ranked California over the weekend to fall to fourth in the conference standings.@@[email protected]@ However, Ducks baseball sits comfortably in a tie for second with UCLA, a single game behind conference-leading Arizona.

With two Pac-12 series remaining in the regular season, White — now in his third year as Oregon’s lead man@@[email protected]@ — will face challenges he hasn’t yet overcome in Eugene. The Ducks lost four-year starting shortstop Kelsey Chambers on Sunday when she fouled a pitch off into her right eye and was forced to leave the game.@@[email protected]@

A 43-game starter in 2012, she is tied for the top spot in home runs (8) and leads Oregon in RBIs (40), doubles (11) and runs scored (35). Chambers’ backup and starting third baseman, sophomore Courtney Ceo, suffered a season-ending knee injury two weeks ago,@@[email protected]@ which leaves Oregon without its leadoff hitter who paced the team with a .378 batting average.@@[email protected]@

And those were just the two most recent injuries for the Ducks. Freshman outfielder Alyssa Gillespie — the 6A Player of the Year out of Glencoe, Ore. — has dealt with a shoulder injury that prevented her from seeing any time on the field this season. Sophomore infielder Lauren Kotz has missed the entire season with a back injury, the same injury that kept senior pitcher Samantha Skillingstad from competing in her final year on campus.@@[email protected]@

All told, that leaves White with four positional subs on a given day — including freshman backup catcher Liz Brenner,@@[email protected]@ who joined the team just last week — and two pitchers to work with. Simply put, these Ducks cannot afford another major injury the rest of the way.

And neither, by any means, can the men over at PK Park.

In Sunday’s loss to Washington State, the freakish injury to outfielder Brett Thomas marked the fourth starter to go down for the Ducks in a matter of weeks. The scary collision with teammate Kevin Shepherd figures to keep Thomas,@@[email protected]@ who was initially diagnosed with a concussion, out of the lineup for at least this weekend’s series with Cal, if not longer.@@needed to trust each other [email protected]@

Just as staggering is the loss of junior shortstop J.J. Altobelli, who went out with an injured shoulder diving back to first base in a nonconference matchup with Arkansas Pine Bluff last week. @@[email protected]@Sophomore catcher and outfielder Aaron Jones has missed time with an ankle injury,@@[email protected]@ and infielder Scott Heineman could potentially be out for the rest of the season with an injured foot.@@[email protected]@ On top of that, starting pitcher Brando Tessar was held out of the Washington State series with a strained muscle, and his return is also uncertain.@@[email protected]@

Oh, yeah, and projected game-one starter Christian Jones had preseason Tommy John surgery,@@[email protected]@ while freshmen pitchers Sam Johnson and Cole Wiper each missed their first seasons at Oregon with injuries they sustained in high school.@@[email protected]@

Wow. Take a minute and let that material digest.

We’ve got two teams expecting to make deep postseason runs, dealing with 13 combined injuries by my count — and that’s not including all the day-to-day bumps and bruises some play through.

By now, this column serves as more of an injury report than an opinion piece, but these respective lists should tell you everything you need to know about each of these coaches. They’ve fostered top-25 programs against the toughest conference competition the country has to offer, remaining in position to reach the postseason come June.

That fact alone speaks to the overall strength of the two teams’ offseason recruiting because without that depth, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. Instead, we would reflect on how Oregon’s softball and baseball seasons were lost to a vicious injury cycle that refused to leave Eugene.

Good on each of those at the helm for keeping hope alive this spring.

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