Oregon’s spring sports are moving at a tremendous pace as we head into the final month of regular season games on the diamond and a speedy stretch of 11 events for Outdoor track and field.
It is still an early season for Oregon’s track and field teams, but the expectations are high after sweeping the 2013 Indoor Championships. These early meets will be an essential part of the season; if the Ducks are able to work back into shape early and remain humble, they will be in the fast lane to this year’s Outdoor championship in June.
At this point in the season, in terms of baseball and softball, it is time to work out any kinks in their game and boast their morale with consistent play and victories. The Ducks’ teams have enough talent to make a run at conference, as well as national, titles in their respective sports.
Here is an update on each team’s position thus far:
After touring four different cities over a 10-day stretch, including a 2-4 record against conference opponents, Oregon (22-10, 7-5 Pac-12) will step out of Pac-12 play for the next six games, opening the stretch with a midweek home-and-home series with Portland, before heading back to PK Park for four games. The short home stand begins with a three-game weekend series against UC Riverside and ends with one game against San Diego.
As a result of the road trip, they have fallen to fifth in the Pac-12 baseball standings, No. 25 in this week’s Baseball America’s Top 25 rankings, and No. 12 the USA Today Coaches Poll. Although Oregon has yet another busy week ahead, it will be a nice break from conference play before beginning the second half of the season.
The hard fought series with the conference leading Washington Huskies included a 10-3 blowout for the Ducks in Game 1, before dropping a pair of one-run games on Saturday and Sunday. Oregon took a two-run lead in the top of the 10th inning on Sunday, but the Huskies answered back with a bases-loaded double off the bat of junior second baseman Andrew Ely, ending in a dramatic 5-4 win for Washington.
A big concern surfacing for the Ducks is the status of freshman hurler Matt Krook, who left Saturday’s game early with what coach George Horton called “stiffness in his throwing arm,” on an in-game interview with Pac-12 Networks.
Krook has a history of shoulder issues and the southpaw’s health will have a large impact on Oregon’s season and the effectiveness of its pitching staff, which is among the best in the nation with a combined 2.89 ERA and 8.18 strikeouts per nine innings. Krook leads the Ducks in both ERA, 1.79, and strikeout efficiency, with 60 strikeouts in 45.1 innings.
With their 2-1 series win over No. 1 UCLA (34-4, 9-3 Pac-12) over the weekend, the No. 3 Ducks (34-5, 8-1 Pac-12) softball team took control of the conference standings and have made a significant push towards being regarded as the best team in the nation, as last week’s No. 2 Tennessee (31-3) dropped two out of three games to LSU.
Oregon’s recent success has ignited off the bat of senior first baseman Kailee Cuico, who was named Pac-12 Player of the Week after helping the Ducks take, both games in a doubleheader with UC Santa Barbara and the victories over the Bruins.
Cuico went 6-for-13, homered three times and added 12 RBIs over the course of five games and her seven RBIs in Saturday’s game tie the UO single-game record. Cuico is now also the Duck’s all-time leader in runs batted in with 161 RBIs.
The road toward a second straight Pac-12 title continues on Friday in a Civil War series at Oregon State (13-20, 3-8 Pac-12). The Beavers have lost six out of their last eight games but averted the sweep against Utah (14-6, 3-7 Pac-12) with a 6-4 win in the series finale.
In 2013, Oregon swept the Little Sister up North in a three game series at Howe Field, in which the Ducks outscored the Oregon State offense 21-1. Check out where Oregon softball stands in today’s rankings on NFCA.org.
Track and Field:
Oregon track and field got help from some good old Hayward Field throwback uniforms, which propelled both the men and women to victories against Arizona Saturday in the Pepsi Dual meet.
The men won easily with a final score of 114-47, while the women cruised to a 106-52 finish, as the Ducks’ Mac Fleet and Arizona’s Lawi Lalang headlined the meet’s most anticipated dual: the men’s 1,500.
Lalang is the three-time defending Pac-12 champion at 1,500 meters and six-time NCAA champion but he came up a second short of Fleet, the defending NCAA champion.
Greg Skipper performed impeccably in the hammer with a meet record of 231 feet, 6 inches, which is second in Oregon history books. Laura Roesler also shined for the women’s team by recording the nation’s fastest time in the 800 this season at 2:01.10.
The Oregon women were ranked No. 2 in the nation in the 2014 Outdoor Track and Field preseason rankings according to USTFCCCA.org. The men’s team was also in the top five in their respective rankings, at No. 4.
The Ducks’ next meet is the Oregon Relays – April 17-19 – at Hayward Field. See ya there!
Top photo by Gary Breedlove