Oregon Ducks climb to No. 17 in college baseball polls

Baseball America loves the Oregon Ducks baseball team, and for good reason. After breaking into the polls for the first time in 30+ years at No. 18 last week, they’ve pushed up the Ducks another spot to No. 17.

Here’s what Aaron Fitt of BA had to say:

17. OREGON
Last Week: 4-1. Overall: 27-13, 8-7 in Pac-10 (6-4 vs. Top 25). Weekend Series: 6-3.

Oregon won its third straight weekend series and moved into a three-way tie for third place in the Pac-10. So. SS K.C. Serna (3-for-5, 2B, 4 RBI) led a 13-hit attack Friday in support of So. LHP Tyler Anderson (6.2 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 10 K). Sr. RHP Justin La Tempa (6 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 6 K) was strong in a no-decision Saturday, but USC won a back-and-forth affair with a run in the 10th against Oregon closer Drew Gagnier. Oregon took the lead for good on Fr. 3B J.J. Altobelli’s third-inning grand slam Sunday. It was Oregon’s first grand slam since the program was reinstated, and it was Altobelli’s first career homer.

Fans are quickly adjusting their expectations accordingly (whether or not they deserve to is an entirely different question). People were legitimately disappointed when Oregon lost on Saturday.

They may be in the cellar this year, but USC is still a baseball powerhouse, and last time I checked, Oregon was the new kid.

I like the attitude, though. It’s clear George Horton has this team confident and more than just “happy to be here”. This team is headed for big things — sooner than anyone expected.

Here are some pics from the Saturday game by the new official UOSportsDude.com photographer, Geoffrey Hale.

Starter Justin LaTempa was in line for the win after tossing six innings of one-run baseball, allowing six hits while fanning six, and leaving the game with a narrow 2-1 lead.

Sophomore KC Serna is blossoming into the star we thought he could be, leading the team in total bases and steals.

Friend of the photographer and USC left fielder Matt Foat, receives the standard Trojan mid-game prostate exam from the trainer. Look ma, no gloves!

Oregon plays Oregon State in the only baseball Civil War home game of the year, this Tuesday night at 6 pm. You better be there!

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Hey Oregon State: anything you can do, we can do better!

After 28 years since their last game, and 55 since their last College World Series appearance, the Oregon Ducks baseball team took the field February 20, 2009 at St. Mary’s in Moraga, Calif., marking the renaissance of the program.

Don't forget, this Friday night is Elvis Night against USC. Come dressed as Elvis and get free admission to the game. Seriously.

Despite stealing  away George Horton, one of the top coaches in the country, from Cal-State Fullerton, building a state of the art baseball stadium, reeling in the No. 2 recruiting class in the country, designing stylish new jerseys with the fight song stitched into the pinstripes (seriously), and oh yea, an endless supply of Phil Knight’s money, expectations were low.

And deservedly so.

It takes several seasons to build a competitive baseball team from scratch, especially in a conference that boasts at least five perennial national powers every year.

But Oregon isn’t your typical New To Division-1 Baseball program. When the Ducks do something, they like to do it big. You can call it grandiose, extravagance and even excessiveness, but whatever you want to call it, you have to admit that it works.

(The Ducks are forced to do something different – read: spend gobs of money –  to create a comparative advantage –  to the outrage of blue collar Beaver fans –  in a sport that’s meant to be played in the California or Florida sunshine.)

Predictably, Oregon faced a difficult first season. After a walk-off season-opening victory over defending champs Fresno State, the team fell a part. Inexperienced, overwhelmed and outmanned, the Ducks fell victim to Pac-10 play, finishing an unsightly 14-42.

Fortunately, Horton and the youngsters took every loss as a learning experience, and look where the Ducks are now.

They beat then-ranked No. 1 ranked Arizona State two weeks ago, were a 2-1 loss away from sweeping Stanford at Sunken Diamond, and again took two of three from No. 1 UCLA at Jackie Robinson Stadium this weekend.

Wow.

For those of you counting at home, that’s a 3-3 record against No. 1 ranked teams, two straight Pac-10 series victories, after not having won one for, oh, 30 years, and most importantly, are now ranked No. 18 in the country (according to Baseball America), and ahead of rival Oregon State, who dropped out of the poll after getting swept at home by Stanford.

SAY WHAT??

If I had told a Beaver fan in 2008 that the Ducks would be ahead of OSU in the polls after just one and half seasons of D-1 baseball, they would have been more incredulous than when the Ducks rolled into Reser Stadium in and won 65-38, crushing their Rose Bowl hopes in the process (sorry, this never  gets old).

Read more about the "Nike-ized" uni's here: http://bit.ly/bFE6lA

Yes, we are now better at the one thing you pride yourselves at being better than us at. At least for now. (Well, except studying gay sheep. I think you’ll always have the edge there.)

So what’s the difference to this year’s 23-12 record?

Another year under George Horton.

“I think last season, Coach Horton had a unique group, and he wasn’t real sure how to get on us. If he would get vocal and yell, some guys on the team would go into a shell. Then he would be a little too nice,” Oregon pitcher Tyler Anderson said to Rivals. “This year, it doesn’t really matter to anyone if someone goes into a shell. They’re going to let us know when we’re not doing things right. As a result, I think the team has responded in a big way so far this season.”

Uh, ya think?

Last season, the Ducks finished with a .227 batting average and a 5.07 ERA. This year? So far, a .276 team batting average and a 2.92 ERA, good for third in the country, ranking behind only UCLA and Texas.

So considering how this is only Year Two, how bright is Oregon’s future?

“We absolutely have an Omaha type of pitching staff [this year]. I’m not even sure I’ve ever been around a staff this deep in quality pitchers,” Horton said.

With that being said, Oregon, ranked in the top 20, is a prime contender for an NCAA regional.

Even if the Ducks stumble down the stretch, they will have accomplished more this year than anyone could have ever imagined. And they’ll only be deeper next year.

Which just goes to show how buying a top coach, state of the art facilities and cool jerseys can go a long way on the recruiting trail, and eventually, in the wins column.

I think Pat Kilkenny has taken notes, and is trying to employ this strategy with the basketball team. As it embarrassing as the situation may seem now, if he gets the right guy, things can turn around quickly.

And I think he will.

The opportunity to build a national power can be enticing. Just ask George Horton.