The Ducks baseball team has been red hot over the last month, finding their stride just in time to make a legitimate playoff push. When head coach George Horton told reporters that their “magic number” to make the College World Series playoffs was somewhere around 35 wins, it looked to be a nearly insurmountable task. However the Ducks have won seven straight and have not dropped a series since mid-April against USC.
An extra-innings victory over Oregon State on Tuesday night sealed the Ducks first Civil War series win since 2011 — they played to a draw in 2013 as a rain delay cancelled the fifth game. The victory over the then No. 33 Beavers boosted Oregon’s RPI to 65, a single spot away from clinching a playoff berth for the fourth consecutive year.
So what must the Ducks accomplish this weekend against No. 3 UCLA? “Win, it’s as simple as that. We have to win as many games as we can this weekend,” Ducks ace Cole Irvin told reporters Wednesday afternoon. Obviously that is a task easier said than done, but with the way Oregon has performed over the last month, anything is possible.
That is the magic of a playoff system, one reason why so many were happy to see the FBS finally adopt it. It levels the playing field, and gives teams grace as they work their way through a season that resembles a marathon, much more than a sprint. A 60-game season comes with its inevitable ups and downs and getting hot at the right time separates the good, the great and the lucky.
But luck has had little to do with Oregon’s recent run of success. Mitchel Tolman has powered the Ducks through the month of May, hitting .328 with 14 RBI and 11 runs scored.
The late inning duo of Stephen Nogosek (6-1, 1.82 ERA, 56 K) and Garrett Cleavinger (4-2, 1.75 ERA, 9 saves, 63 K) has been a picture of consistency for a scrambling pitching staff all season.
Of course, baseball games are not won by three players, and according to Horton, confidence has been the factor that has changed the club’s fortune. More than any other factor, confidence was what Horton stressed to reporters on Wednesday, telling us that “now that we have that compound effect of being able to do some things, we are a more confident team.”
When asked about a single moment that he began to see a mental turnaround in his club, coach Horton hesitated to put his finger on a single moment. “I think it’s been a compound effect of a lot of little things” he told FishDuck.com; however, he determined that winning the series against Oregon State last month was a big confidence builder for his club.
Here’s to hoping that the Ducks season is far from over. In order to keep it going, they will need to bring all of their confidence, all of their momentum and all of their heart into this weekend’s match-up against UCLA.
Top photo by Gary Breedlove