Being emotionally invested in the Oregon football program is something that nearly all Duck fans have in common. All the sights, sounds, even the smells of a cloudy fall afternoon in Autzen Stadium are things that Oregon fans young and old all share and love equally.
But an afternoon in PK Park next door is, quite literally, still wearing in on Duck followers. While the program is only four years old, Head Coach George Horton has quietly built a brand new powerhouse out west.
Oregon has been ranked as high as No. 8 in the national polls, and now has a 27-13 record, 11-7 in conference, tied for second in the PAC-12. That record is no fluke, as Oregon had one of the toughest mid-season stretches in all of College Baseball.
That gauntlet included the big three of the PAC 12: #14 Arizona State, #5 UCLA, and #6 Stanford. That would be like playing the Tigers, Rangers, and Cardinals all in a row for any MLB fans out there. Any reasonable fan would be perfectly content with winning two of the three series (taking two of three games in each series), but the Ducks did something much more surprising.
Starting March 31st, the Ducks swept ASU, took two of three at UCLA, and then took two of three at Stanford. The unprecedented 7-2 record against three top-15 teams earned Oregon its highest ranking (8th) since the program’s reinstatement in 2007, but they are not done yet.
To start, Oregon’s rotation is one of the best in College Baseball. The “Friday Night Ace,” Alex Keudell was just recently named the PAC-12 Pitcher of the Week for the second time in his career. Big deal, right? Wrong. Here the only other pitchers to earn those honors: Mike Leake from ASU, Trevor Bauer of UCLA, who is now pitching for the Diamondbacks, and this guy with long hair that pitches in San Francisco, Tim Lincecum. Maybe you’ve heard of him.
Keudell (6-3) has a stellar 1.98 ERA, and came up big in “The Gauntlet.” He threw his first career complete-game shutout against ASU to upset the Sun Devils, threw 7 shutout innings at UCLA, and allowed just one run while striking out seven against Stanford, a season high.
Things don’t get much easier for the rest of the series when playing against the Ducks as Oregon has three more capable starters in Jake Reed, Brando Tessar, and Jeff Gold.
Oh, don’t overlook Jordan Spencer, a freshman, who tossed a no-no (a no hitter, or no hits allowed for all nine innings for the new baseball fans) against Portland. It was the first no-hitter in school history since program reinstatement in 2009.
Yet the biggest story this season hasn’t been the starting rotation, but the bullpen. Specifically, Jimmie Sherfy. The long haired closer nicknamed “Wild Thing” very well could be the next big name you see in the majors.
Sherfy leads the nation, not just the team, not the conference, but the entire country in strikeouts per nine innings pitched (K/9). This stat will show how many batters the pitcher would have struck out had he pitched the entire game. As of right now, Sherfy is striking out 13.90 batters per nine innings, again, tops in the nation, though Sherfy is 1.1 innings shy of qualifying for the official K/9 leader.
Those 38.2 innings pitched are tops for the Ducks’ bullpen, and 59 strikeouts are tops for the entire pitching staff. That statistic alone is truly impressive, as Keudell, for one, has thrown over twice the amount of innings that Sherfy has, but has only struck out 44 batters, 15 shy of the closer.
With good pitching and defense, twentieth in the nation in team ERA at just 2.99, the Ducks haven’t needed too many runs, just 190 in 39 games (as of 4/22/12) for 4.87 runs per game. However, there have been some bright spots on the offensive side.
Aaron Jones leads the team with a .314 average, 24 runs scored, and five home runs on the season. Behind him is Kyle Garlick, who has a solid .313 average, and another five homers. Another notable Duck is Ryon Healy, who is tied with Jones in RBIs for a team best 28 runs batted in.
What comes next for the Ducks? With the PAC 12 season winding down and the post season looming closer with every day, where will the Ducks land in the post season conversation?
As of 4/24/12, the Ducks are poised to be the host of a Regional, an honor given to the top 16 teams across the nation.
If the Ducks can earn home-field advantage, the Ducks have the potential to reach a super-regional, the second round of postseason play. They are projected to take on Purdue in the super-regional.
But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. Oregon has seven series, plus two single game Civil War matches before heading to the NCAAs. As of 4/25/12, the Ducks are one game behind Arizona, and are tied with UCLA for second in the conference. The Ducks play the Wildcats in a three game series in Tucson from May 4th through the 6th. Should Oregon claim the series in Tucson, the Civil War series in Corvallis will be the biggest of the season.
So yes, the Ducks are in good position to make a run at a trip to Omaha, but before anyone can talk about that, the Ducks will need to overcome several injuries and grind out some more wins before their big series with Arizona.
Want to go catch a game? You only have 10 chances left before the Regionals. The Ducks are next in action on Friday, where they’ll play a weekend series with the California Golden Bears. So go out, and enjoy an evening at the ballpark, after all you belong at PK Park.