Every eye in Eugene and around the country is on Ducks football, as we are rapidly approaching the beginning of a fresh season. With lofty expectations and electric excitement surrounding the team, much is lost in the rest of the world of Duck sports. Just a week after Oregon squares off with Eastern Washington in the season opener, the Ducks baseball team will begin fall practices, where a number of freshmen are set to begin their tenure at PK Park.
The Oregon baseball team had an incredible run to finish the 2015 season. They won 10 of their last 12 games, and secured a spot in the NCAA tournament, before they were eliminated by Iowa in group play.
The Ducks looked like a powerhouse over the first three weeks of the season, opening the year with an impressive 13-2 record while outscoring opponents 104-45.
But looks can be deceiving. Postseason hopes were nearly extinguished when the Ducks struggled through a horrible mid-season run, going 14-19 during March and April.
Recently departed stars Mitchell Tolman, Scott Heineman and Josh Graham managed to rally the troops and bring the Ducks back to life just in time, helping head coach George Horton take the team to their fourth straight tournament appearance.
But now those stars are gone. Most notable is Tolman, who provided a spark in the clubhouse, as well as on the field, and led the surge with his team-leading .325 average on 75 hits with 42 RBIs. Despite these major losses, prospects for the upcoming season are high.
Matt Kroon, a highly-touted prospect from Arizona, will battle to take over for Tolman at third base in his first year as a Duck. Kroon is joined by four others who have decided to keep their commitments to the Ducks after falling in the June draft.
Ducks’ ace Cole Irvin will be back next year, as well, having turned down an offer from the Pittsburgh Pirates after being selected in the 32nd round.
With the return of Irvin, this year’s pitching staff promises to be one of the strongest in the country. The 21-year-old redshirt junior leads the pack with a career 3.14 ERA to go with a 14-8 record.
Matt Krook is stretching out in a summer league and will be returning to the Ducks rotation after missing last season while recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Rounding out the top three is David Peterson, who led the team in strikeouts in 2015 (81) and spent some time playing with the U.S. Collegiate National Team earlier this summer.
Stepping into Tolman’s role as leader of the offense is the man who hit behind him, Phil Craig-St. Louis. The junior college transfer kept pace with Tolman in his first year, as he ranked second on the team in RBI (38), hits (64) and runs scored (33).
Tim Susnara promises to contribute as well, after he wrestled the job behind the plate from slugger Shaun Chase as a freshman. Susnara played himself into the starting role with solid defensive and offensive contributions, playing the hero more than once down the stretch for the club.
The summer months have dragged on long enough for college sports fans, but our patience will soon pay off. When you are screaming “O” in Autzen, just don’t forget about the field across the parking lot. PK Park is preparing to bring home a championship of its own sooner than anyone thinks.
Top Photo by Dave Peaks