College coaches need at least four years to be fairly judged. Often times they don’t get it, but that’s what they need. That allows them time to develop their first class of recruits and instill their own system. Normally coaches are dealing with leftovers from their predecessors. Not the case for George Horton.
Horton, who just finished his fourth year as the Oregon Ducks head baseball coach, started with nothing.
The Ducks returned to Division I baseball in 2009 with Horton as the head man. He was able to build his program with his type of players. Those players were picked using a certain philosophy. That philosophy was predicated on pitching and defense.
Pitching and defense nearly carried this year’s team – with Horton’s original freshmen now seniors – to the NCAA College World Series.
Oregon suffered two devastating losses to the Kent State Golden Flashes in the super regional in Eugene.
In the opener, a sensational catch from Kent State center fielder Evan Campbell ended the game with the bases full of Ducks.
Oregon responded with a come-from-behind win in the next game, setting up a one-game finale for a trip to Omaha. Again, the game ended in dramatic fashion. This time it was a blooper landing on the left-field line that allowed the Golden Flashes to win the game and the series.
The chalk that ball kicked up left a bitter taste in the mouth of Oregon players and fans. The Ducks, seeded fifth nationally in the tournament, would not be among the teams vying for a College World Series title at Rosenblatt Stadium.
Instead, they’d stay in Eugene for the summer.
But when removing the immediacy of heartbreak, this season should be celebrated for its success.
In just their fourth season, the Ducks found themselves hosting a super regional.
It’s Oregon’s second time playing in the NCAA tournament, after making it in 2010 as well.
The Ducks are still a step away from a bigger goal – Omaha – and even a couple of steps away from the ultimate goal – a College World Series championship.
It’s been much discussed the reason Oregon has a team at all right now is the back-to-back national titles the Oregon State Beavers won in 2006-07. After all, the Beavers won the title on June 24, 2007. Oregon announced it would reinstate its baseball program in July of 2007. Oregon State’s success undoubtedly was directed related to NCAA baseball’s return to Eugene.
In that vein, this year should be viewed as a success for Oregon: While the Ducks were gearing up to host a super regional, the Beavs were returning from their defeat in the Baton Rouge Regional.
Having a better year than the Beavers in baseball is a notch on the belt, but surely is of little consolation to the Duck players. The Oregon baseball team had a great season but will find itself dwelling on a couple of crucial plays – one made by Kent State, one not made by Oregon – that kept the Ducks away from Omaha.
Those plays will linger in the minds of every player still on the Oregon roster until next season. Then it will all start again as Horton’s Ducks try to pitch and defend their way to Omaha once more.