The 2012 Oregon Duck baseball season ended on June 11th at PK Park against a formidable Kent State team with a bit of irony as Coach George Horton pointed out in the post game press conference:
“There’s some irony for me that we lost the ball in the sun in Eugene and it ended our season.”
With star sophomore players Brett Thomas and Ryon Healy by his side, Horton graciously gave all the credit to an outstanding Kent State Golden Flash team that had a 20- game win streak when they traveled to Eugene for the Super Regional and best two out of three match up.
KSU extended their streak to 21 in the first game on a spectacular running catch by center fielder Evan Campbell off the bat of JJ Altobelli with two out and the bases loaded. Final: KSU 7, UO 6.
The next night Oregon rallied from a 2-0 deficit with three runs in the seventh and held on to win with the great pitching from Tommy Thorpe and Jimmie Sherfy in relief of a great performance by Jake Reed. The “rubber match” looked like a possible repeat of the previous Duck victory, but Oregon’s 8th inning rally ended at 2-2, and the Golden Flash scored the winning run in the bottom of the ninth on the short fly ball to left field that Thomas and Altobelli couldn’t get to.
After all this and the dejection of a tough loss, most of Horton’s comments were about the great pride he had in his 2012 squad, and the reasons why they came one run away from a trip to Omaha, Nebraska and the College World Series.
When asked if he thought, at the first of the season in February, that this team would go as far as it did, Horton said, “They shocked me. But, on the other hand, this team displayed through their total commitment, hard work and character that it’s not all about talent or great individual statistics.”
Horton emphasized his statement by revealing that since the first practice this year the whole team of 35 players reported for weight lifting every morning at 6:20 a.m. Every morning. Only once in all those mornings was there a “problem”. One player showed up five minutes late. That was the only glitch.
The Coach went on to say that on road trips, flight attendants or people working at the hotels the team stayed in would come up to Horton and make unsolicited comments to him on how they were impressed by the wonderful conduct of his players. The number of complaints the whole season…zero. Horton stated that his team “deserved Omaha”–they had worked so hard to get there.
But, in the big picture, this was a team of young men he could be thoroughly proud of beyond the 46-19 (.707) winning record. Coach Horton concluded by saying that he “couldn’t wait till September and that day when we can get back on the field and get going again.” Ryon Healy summed things up for the team when he said, “We’re going to walk out of here proud–but
The Ducks got to host the Super Regional in Eugene with nail-biting, dramatic wins over Austin Peay (6-5) and Cal State-Fullerton (7-5) in the first two games of the four-team regional in Eugene on June 1st and 2nd. On Sunday, June 3rd, the Ducks left no doubt with a dominating 8-1 victory in a return match with
Hosting the Regional and Super Regional was not only a great experience for the baseball team, but it also gave the community of Eugene and Duck fans an opportunity to show their support to a team and a spring sport that, in Oregon, can be very challenging due to the cool and wet weather in February, March, April and even May. Everybody loves a winner, and particularly when the Ducks earned the right to host the Super Regional, the fans responded with record crowds for a three-game series. In that regard, Horton expressed his hope that the fan experience at PK Park can become more than an event or a minor league baseball atmosphere–not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Horton used the word “edge” that a college baseball fan base and crowd can have. He didn’t say it, but I believe he was referring to the bond fans can develop for their local team and the players on that team, and forming an appreciation for what they accomplish both on and off the field.
From the U of O’s point of view, they can only hope that this year’s success and the excitement created by the Regionals in PK Park can result in more season tickets sold next year, and more fans walking up and buying tickets on game day. There is certainly reason to be hopeful as the Ducks stand to lose only three key players from this year’s team: Senior Pac-12 pitcher of the year Alex Keudell, senior catcher Brett Hambright and sophomore Aaron Jones who is 21 years old and looks to sign a pro contract after being drafted by the Colorado Rockies in the 18th round.
As great as he was this year, it should be no problem replacing Keudell as long as the rehab of Christian Jones and a couple other young guns go well. All of the infield and outfield should return with plenty of depth. There will be competition at catcher and as it stands now, Shaun Chase, who saw some action this year, and red-shirt freshman Derek Smith from Pleasant Hill are the leading candidates.
The 2013 team should have more talent and experience than this year’s extraordinarily successful team. There is already star power in closer Jimmie (Wild Thing) Sherfy when he runs out of the bullpen and finishes off the opposition’s hitters with his lightning fastball and
Ryon Healy, Brett Thomas, JJ Altobelli and Kyle Garlick have the ability and potential to be bigger impact hitters. The same is true of Aaron Payne, Ryan Hambright and Connor Hofmann, but it is likely that some of this year’s freshman will rise to the top. Shaun Chase, Thomas Walker, Jordan Spencer, Scott Heineman, Billy Flamion and Derek Smith are all candidates.
Add to that a talented incoming freshman or two and one could say the future is bright for Oregon baseball…as long as they are all working together for the same goal at 6:20 a.m.!