After Cinderella run last season, club baseball looks to defend national title
Oregon club baseball was content with just making it to the national championships season, so winning the 2015 National Club Baseball Association [NCBA] World Series exceeded every expectation they had.
How do you top that? By winning another one.
After winning the Northern Pacific Regionals Sunday, the Ducks will head to Paducah, Kentucky, where they enter the 2016 World Series as the three-seed. They will play sixth-seeded Illinois in the first round on May 27 at 10:30 a.m. CT.
Oregon thrived in the underdog role last season, but after winning a title, complacency can be cancerous.
That didn’t happen.
The Ducks went 22-3 this season with a 15-0 conference record. A look at their box scores reveals their habit of dominating their opponents. The title run last season seems to have boosted their confidence.
“I feel like [winning a national championship] has taken pressure off, as weird as that sounds,” said head coach and former player Michael Finneran. “We play with a lot of an undercover confidence. It is not cockiness, but knowing that we are good enough to win allows us to play with a sense of ease.”
A factor in the team’s high level of confidence can be attributed to the low turnover of players from last year’s roster to the current one. Oregon returned seven of nine starters from its lineup, and the pitching rotation did not lose a single player. Most importantly, the senior leadership is strong.
“We have been playing together for so long that it is almost like a family,” said team captain Nick Sweet. “We have eight seniors, so we have been playing together for four years, and we know what to expect from each other and hold ourselves accountable.”
Returning many starters gave this team lots of confidence, but their dominant performances throughout the season has kept it feeling good.
Jason Ross and Jared Ross have the most strikeouts and wins in the conference, and both are in the top three for ERA, with fellow Duck Arthur Stormquist holding the top spot. The Ducks also boast the top four players in RBI and home runs.
“We have the best pitching staff in the nation… but our hitting is on another level,” said senior outfielder Max Morrison.
Pitching and defense won the title last season, and with the addition of the offense, this team knows it can beat anyone. But playing conference games against teams that are familiar is a small task compared to national teams with equal skill. Now is when the pressure of defending a national title can mount.
“If we tighten up we start to get the jitters, and that’s when we lose,” said Morrison.
“Keep it light, stick to our game and we’ll be okay,” Sweet added.
The formula for this team is fun. It knows it is lucky to be competing in the World Series, and that keeps it grounded.
“It’s not ‘championship or bust,'” Finneran said. “We are one of the eight teams out of 140, and that is a huge accomplishment.”
Winning the championship last year may be the end-all-be-all for some, but defending the title is the team’s number one priority.
“[Making the World Series] is still an amazing feat,” said Maxwell. “Last year, we raised our expectations… We have that same talent. The definition of success would be getting another ring.”
Follow Jack on Twitter @Butler917
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