Oregon Conference Update: Multiple National Titles Within Reach
It’s the time of year in spring sports where competition in the next few weeks will be as hot as the summer sun. The playoffs are particularly exciting this season, as Oregon has a legitimate chance to win national championships in both softball and track field, while baseball looks to overcome devastating injuries to its pitching staff and surprise the nation by earning a trip to Omaha.
Let’s take a look at how these teams arrived at this point in the season and how the postseasons are shaping up.
Baseball: After losing two starters at the top of their rotation in Cole Irvin and Matt Krooks, the Ducks continued to play at a high level until they lost all three games in a series versus Oregon State in late April. Scoring a total of four runs in the set, Oregon lost by just two runs in the first two games of the series before falling 7-1 in the finale. The series dropped the Ducks from the national rankings and ended a nine-game winning streak. Oregon currently sits at 36-16 overall and 14-10 in the Pac-12. After dropping two-of-three in a series at Arizona State this past weekend, the Ducks have fallen to fourth place in the conference.
Despite losing Irvin and Krooks, Oregon’s pitching staff has remained extremely solid. Its 2.97 ERA ranks second in the Pac-12 to only the Beavers (2.17). The Ducks’ Tommy Thorpe has routinely set the tone for the pitching staff with a 2.40 ERA and 71 strikeouts, while closer Jake Reed ranks second in the conference with 11 saves.
Though hitting was expected to be Oregon’s Achilles heel, the top of the lineup has been relatively productive. Tyler Baumgartner and Aaron Payne have done a good job of setting the table, as they sit 2nd and 4th, respectively, in runs scored in the latest Pac-12 stats. Mitchell Tolman has been the Ducks’ most productive hitter with a .324 average. He also sits second in the conference with 54 RBIs.
Since the Oregon State series, Oregon has fallen back into the PAC in batting average, ranking sixth in the conference. Nonetheless, the Ducks are tied for first in the Pac-12 with Washington in runs scored.
After being ranked eighth in the nation prior to the NCAA Regionals last season, the Ducks will have a much tougher road to Omaha. They will certainly need to beat top-ranked teams on the road — where Oregon’s 1-9 record against opponents in the top 25 this season, is not an optimistic sign for the playoffs.
However, the Ducks play six of their final seven regular season games against Pac-12 rivals. This includes a series at defending national champion UCLA Bruins this weekend and one more crack at the Beavers at home on May 20th. While the road to Omaha this June will be filled with debris, Oregon could surprise if its lineup heats up for an extended period of time.
Softball: As the top-ranked team in the nation for the past month, the Ducks’ softball team has been one of the stories of the year for Oregon sports.
Oregon just finished up its season with a 49-7-1 record (20-3-1 in Pac 12), winning its second consecutive Pac-12 title. The Ducks earned the ranking after sweeping UCLA, which entered the series ranked No. 1, themselves.
Since then, Oregon posted a 16-2-1 record to finish the season. Sophomore Cheridan Hawkins (30-4 record, 1.56 ERA) showed yet again this season why she was such a prized recruit out of high school. Her 283 strikeouts ranked second in the Pac 12.
Infielder Courtney Ceo has been the conference’s best hitter, as she led the Pac-12 in both batting average (.481) and hits (87). Meanwhile, speedster Janie Takeda ranks first in triples (7) and second in stolen bases (17).
Oregon hosts the NCAA Regionals this weekend and will play its first game against Utah Valley (18-40) on Friday. Utah Valley earned a trip to the regionals by winning the WAC tournament. The Ducks won the previous two match ups this season by scores of 8-0 and 5-4. Albany (33-11) and Wisconsin (34-18) will round out the double-elimination regional.
Though ESPN did not opt to televise the Eugene Regional as part of its NCAA softball coverage, the Pac-12 Network will likely air the Ducks’ games. While the Duck baseball team has largely underachieved, softball continues to dominate opponents. If it continues its dominance throughout the playoffs, Oregon will be able to celebrate a national title on the diamond.
Track and Field:
The weekend featured mostly multi-event championships, as Oregon put itself in prime position to win titles in both the men’s and women’s teams this weekend at Washington State.
The Oregon mens decathletes accumulated 21 points heading in to next weekend, which is the most the Ducks have scored in the event since racking up 25 in 2004.
Redshirt Junior Dakotah Keys took home his third consecutive conference championship in the decathlon. Keys and olympic gold medalist Ashton Eaton have combined to win six of the past seven decathlon championships for Oregon. Mitch Modin and Alex Fellows finished in third and fourth place in the event, respectively, to bolster the scoring.
The third-ranked women and fourth-ranked men will look to close in on Pac-12 titles next Saturday and Sunday in Pullman. The men seek an eighth-straight title while the women will attempt to collect their sixth in a row.