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Rosenthal: Ducks baseball could be destined for something special



Sophomore Jimmie Sherfy (30), who closed out the game pitching for the Oregon Ducks, points to the sky in celebration after the Ducks slip by with a 2- 1 win over the Portland Pilots. (Nate Barrett/Oregon Daily Emerald)

George Horton and the Ducks have done a great job of telling the media they aren’t thinking about the postseason, and that’s a good thing. Players and coaches shouldn’t think about the postseason until the postseason.

But I’m a writer.

I’ve noticed something in the I-don’t-even-want-to-think-about-how-many hours I’ve spent at PK Park this spring. The Ducks seem to have that so-called x-factor that special teams always seem to have.

They’re not going to hit the ball 600 feet and only two regular starters have batting averages above the .300 mark, but Oregon’s pitching is good enough that it doesn’t matter. When you boast one of the 10 best staff ERAs in the country, you don’t need to score 10 runs a game. @@http://www.pac-12.org/portals/7/images/baseball/stats/2011-12/HTML/[email protected]@ @@http://www.ncaa.com/stats/baseball/d1/current/team/211/[email protected]@

But it’s not Oregon’s pitching that makes me wonder if this team might have the stuff to travel to Omaha for the College World Series. It’s that x-factor I mentioned — in Horton’s words, the Ducks’ “competitive swagger.”

Catcher Brett Hambright spoke about that mentality after the Ducks’ senior day win over Seattle. He explained it started when the Ducks lost their season opener to Hawaii and how they simply didn’t want to feel that again. @@http://www.goducks.com/SportSelect.dbml?&DB_OEM_ID=500&SPID=11401&[email protected]@

If you hadn’t jumped on the Ducks’ bandwagon yet, here’s what happened next: Oregon won the next three games in paradise. Then the Ducks beat Belmont. Then they swept Vanderbilt. Then they swept Long Beach State.

The Ducks cooled down a little bit from there, but once conference play started, the Ducks started gaining momentum again, and that was a good thing too considering what they were up against.

For a three-weekend stretch from late March into early April, Oregon played three straight series against top-15 opponents and took home a series win each time. The Ducks entered that stretch ranked barely in the top 25 (No. 23) — but emerged with the first top-10 ranking in modern program history.

Those games, though — in particular the last three against Stanford and the following game against Arkansas Pine Bluff — took a toll on the Ducks. Big names such as Aaron Jones and J.J. Altobelli were missing in action. Brando Tessar still hasn’t pitched since tweaking his arm in the Ducks’ loss to Stanford, and Scott Heineman will be sidelined for the remainder of the season with a foot injury.

For a moment, it looked like the Ducks’ season was about to come crashing down. The Ducks lost two of three to Washington State and got pushed around by the Beavers.

What did the Ducks do when they hit rock bottom? They swept California.

Riding that momentum — and two wins over Gonzaga — Oregon flew to Tucson for yet another series against a ranked team in the Pac-12, and yet again, they took home a series win.

The Ducks have also been great at home, going 25-6 inside PK Park, and are likely to host at least a regional, if not a potential Super Regional.

Obviously, there’s one big series left this weekend against Oregon State, and there’s a bit of subtext to that series. Last year Oregon State needed two wins at PK Park to clinch a Pac-12 crown and the Ducks swept to close the season. So it’s perhaps early to fully write the script.

The Ducks have had their off days against the bottom half of the conference, but they’ve yet to lose a Pac-12 series against a ranked team, compiling a 13-4 record against ranked teams throughout the year.

Only four losses against the top 25, and never two in a row. That bodes quite well for the double-elimination format of college baseball’s postseason.

Even better though, is Oregon’s record in one-run games, and that goes back to the Ducks’ alleged lack of offense. The Ducks are going to be in a lot of one-run games just because of how their offense is structured. But they have the confidence in their pitching staff, and the defensive talent to win those close games.

And come June, that’s a good thing.


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