Oregon’s basketball team kept its slim hopes alive for a tourney bid with a victory against the Oregon State Beavers last Sunday, winning 93-83. The Ducks were led by a team effort punctuated – once again – by Joseph Young’s brilliance, where he led all scorers with 25 points while playing hard-nosed basketball. This week the Ducks must take advantage of their schedule that has them hosting the Washington schools at Matthew Knight Arena, starting with the hated Huskies on Wednesday and then the Cougars on Sunday. It is imperative that the Ducks bring out the broom and sweep both schools to keep their winning momentum going and their March Madness dreams alive – there’s simply no room for error this week.
Now to some news that should put the spring back into all of our steps (I know, terrible pun) – college baseball is off and running! The Pac 12 has seen two of its teams win the last two College World Series, with UCLA winning the title last year and Arizona taking home the prize in 2012. And they did it in dominating fashion, going a combined 20-0 during the playoffs. Before that, of course, Oregon State was the last Pac 12 team to take home the CWS crown, winning back-to-back national championships in 2006-07. No matter the pretensions of ACC and SEC apologists, the Pac 12 is the premiere baseball conference in America.
So, it is high praise indeed when Pac 12 baseball coaches picked Oregon State to win the Pac 12 and Oregon to finish second. And the college baseball nation agrees with this assessment. Both the Oregon State Beavers and the Oregon Ducks rank near the top in every baseball poll due in no small part to both being led by two of the most successful and respected head coaches in college baseball, Oregon State’s Pat Casey and Oregon’s George Horton. Add to that a talented roster and recent on-the-field excellence and you get the recipe for high expectations.
For example, in addition to Oregon State’s back-to-back titles, last year they made it all the way to Omaha, Nebraska, the historic home of the College World Series, as one of eight finalists, while Oregon’s rising program has reached the Super-Regionals the last two years just missing the CWS. In fact, OSU is ranked as high as number 2 by Baseball America, which has UO ranked 11; the NCBWA poll has OSU at 3 and UO at 11; USA Coaches poll has OSU 3 and UO at 7; and Collegiate Baseball has OSU and UO ranked 4 and 6 respectively.
Both programs have started strong out of the gate. As expected, Oregon State beat Gonzaga, Nebraska and Pacific in the Husker Classic in Tempe, Arizona, while the Ducks have picked up where they started off last year, polishing off a 4-game sweep of the Rainbows in Hawaii for the second straight year to open the season.
The Beavers and the Ducks have BIG out of conference games coming up before entering the gauntlet known as the Pac 12 conference. OSU has a strangely heavy slate of games against B10 teams, playing 5 games against 4 different teams from that conference during its OOC schedule. (The B10 is committed to enhancing its baseball reputation and beating a few Pac 12 baseball teams, especially a team like Oregon State, would do wonders for the national reputation of the B10.) Oregon has a HUGE series with consensus number 1, Cal State Fullerton, coming up at the end of this month, which will have a major impact on the Ducks’ rankings for the rest of the season.
It’s going to be fun watching these two teams battle their way to – hopefully - a high seeding come NCAA playoff time. And with the way the NCAA structures its baseball playoffs, one simply can’t overstate the importance of getting a high seed going into the playoffs. The highest seeds at the conclusion of the regular season host the regionals and, if they win that, they host a Super-Regional, where the eight winners advance to the College World Series, to play for the national championship. So both the Beavers and the Ducks have the potential – yep, the dreaded “P” word – to play their way to college baseball’s Promised Land – Omaha’s TD Ameritrade Park in June, and this writer likes one or the other to win it.