The Oregon Ducks and PK Park were once again selected as a regional host site for the second straight year. The announcement that a regional would take place in Eugene again, made Oregon one of eight programs (Florida State, LSU, North Carolina, North Carolina State, South Carolina, Virginia, and UCLA) to be awarded back-to-back hosting opportunities. It’s quite a feat if you consider that Oregon reinstated baseball in 2009.
Oregon finished the season second in the Pac-12 with a 22-8 record. They were 45-14 overall. Non-conference series losses against Vanderbilt and Cal State Fullerton prepared Oregon for the grind of the Pac-12. Conference series victories against USC, Arizona, Washington, California, Stanford, Washington State, and Utah secured the Ducks a postseason berth. On the other hand, Oregon had conference losses against Arizona State, UCLA, and Oregon State, all regional teams.
The strength of the Oregon ballclub is pitching and defense. The Ducks finished tied for second place in the conference with a 2.79 team ERA. Tommy Thorpe (7-4, 2.22 ERA), Cole Irvin (11-3, 2.61 ERA), and Jake Reed (6-5, 3.24 ERA) make up the Oregon starting staff. In the back end of the Oregon bullpen is NCBWA Stopper of the Year candidate, Jimmie Sherfy (20 SV, 1.67 ERA).
The Ducks led the conference with a .981 fielding percentage. They committed just 45 errors. Shortstop J.J Altobelli and second baseman Aaron Payne are strong up the middle, as both players committed just five errors during the regular season.
Offensively Oregon is known primarily for their small-ball style. The Ducks routinely sacrifice runners along creating pressure situations defensively for their opponents. The major offensive force for Oregon is first baseman Ryon Healy. Healy led the Pac-12 with 10 home runs and finished third in the Pac-12 with 50 RBI.
#2 Seed Rice Owls
The Rice Owls, winners of both the regular season Conference USA championship and the Conference USA tournament championship, were selected to their 19th consecutive regional appearance. The 19th consecutive regional selection is the fourth longest streak in the country, behind only Miami (FL) 41 consecutive appearances, Florida State 36 consecutive appearances, and Cal State Fullerton 22 consecutive appearances.
Rice finished the season with a 15-9 conference record. They were 41-17 overall. Like Oregon, Rice had a bevy of non-conference matchups against top ranked teams. The Owls suffered losses to North Carolina, Texas A&M, and Baylor in the Astros Foundation College Classic. Rice had conference series victories against Southern Miss, Tulane, East Carolina, Houston, UAB, and Marshall. The only conference losses for the Owls came in matchups against UCF and Memphis. They enter play this weekend riding a nine-game win streak.
Rice is a ballclub that is well balanced. The Owls led Conference USA in team batting average (.282), team ERA (2.72), and hits (557). They also finished third in the conference with a .973 fielding percentage. Rice has committed 65 errors so far this season.
On the mound, the trio of Austin Kubitza (8-4, 2.03 ERA), Jordan Stephens (7-4, 2.70 ERA), and John Simms (8-3, 2.36 ERA) have taken the ball on weekend matchups. Kubitza has held opposing hitters to a .196 average in 89.0 innings pitched. He averages 11.5 strikeouts per 9.0 innings, the second best mark in the country among Division I starting pitchers. Closer Zech Lemond (14 SV, 1.19 ERA) has also been solid in the back end of the bullpen. The sophomore broke the single season saves record, previously held by David Aardsma (12), during the year.
Offensively, Rice is a team that is balanced with .300 hitters and long ball threats. Shortstop Ford Stainback (.295, .366 OBP) and DH Michael Aquino (.323, 8 HR, 42 RBI) each led the team with 72 hits, which ranked fourth in the conference. Right fielder Michael Ratterree (.288, 9 HR, 41 RBI) finished third in the conference in home runs. Rice also gets tremendous production from second baseman Christian Stringer (.302, .417 OBP) and left fielder Keenan Cook (.309, 30 RBI)
#3 Seed San Francisco Dons
The San Francisco Dons will make their third regional appearance in program history this weekend as they prepare to take on Rice in game one of the Eugene Regional. The Dons finished tied for second in the West Coast conference, but did manage to make it to the conference tournament championship before losing to the University of San Diego 2-0. They finished the regular season 34-22 overall and15-9 in conference play.
San Francisco had non-conference series losses to Oregon State and Arizona, but the Dons were able to split a two-game series with Missouri and take a series against TCU. Once their conference schedule rolled around, San Francisco posted series victories against Portland, Saint Mary’s, Santa Clara, San Diego, and Pepperdine. Their conference losses were to Gonzaga, Loyola Marymount, and BYU.
The Dons are another well-rounded ballclub. They led the West Coast Conference in fielding percentage (.973), while only committing 62 errors in 670 chances. They also led the conference in stolen bases with 78 out of 100 attempts.
On the mound, San Francisco comes into the weekend with the second best ERA in the West Coast Conference (.346). Starter Haden Hinkle will get the ball Friday. He is 9-1 with a 1.83 ERA, but has only started four games. Christian Cecilio should start Saturday. He is 3-3 with a 4.11 ERA. Alex Balog, (3-3 3.69) or Abe Bobb (5-5, 3.79 ERA), could be next in line. The biggest strength of the Dons pitching staff is the bullpen, where Adam Cimber leads the team with nine saves. There are multiple relievers on the squad that sit with ERA’s below 3.00.
At the plate, San Francisco is led by Bradley Zimmer. Zimmer finished the regular season with a .335 batting average, seven home runs, and 36 RBI. He also leads the team with 18 stolen bases. The other major offensive weapon in the lineup is Zachary Turner, who also posted a .335 batting average. Turner led the team with eight home runs and 62 RBI.
#4 Seed South Dakota State Jackrabbits
The South Dakota State Jackrabbits will make their first-ever Division I regional appearance Friday evening as they take on the Oregon Ducks at 6 p.m. South Dakota State is no stranger to postseason play however, as the Jackrabbits have made nine postseason appearances at the Division II level. They made the transition to Division I in 2005. The Jackrabbits finished 35-22 overall. They finished in second place in the Summit League, with a 16-10 record. They earned their first regional bid by winning the Summit League Tournament, by a final of 1-0 over North Dakota State.
Playing in a small conference, South Dakota State did not face off against any perennial powerhouse programs. Instead the Jackrabbits posted victories against Northern Colorado, Alcorn State, Mississippi Valley State, and Saint Louis. The Jackrabbits had non-conference losses to programs such as Ohio State, Minnesota, and Mercer. Once conference started, South Dakota split four-game series with North Dakota State and Oakland. They had victories over Western Illinois and Fort Wayne. Their conference losses were against regular season champion Omaha.
On the mound, South Dakota State is led by Stephen Bougher. Bougher finished with an 8-2 record and a 2.89 ERA. He recorded 60 strikeouts and just 22 walks. Layne Somsen was second for the Jackrabbits with 12 starts. He posted a 4-5 record, but had a 1.92 ERA. Somsen led the team with 85 K’s in 84.1 innings pitched. Adam Bray is the third Jackrabbit starter who racked up the most starts during the season. He finished with a 7-2 record and a 3.19 ERA. At the backend of the bullpen is closer J.D. Moore. Moore has 13 saves and a 1.67 ERA.
Designated hitter Daniel Telford led the team with a .421 batting average in 114 at-bats. He also led the team with six home runs and 36 RBI. Scott Splett is another offensive weapon, who hits in the middle of the order for the Jackrabbits. Splett posted a .297 batting average in a team high 195 at-bats. He has two home runs and 31 RBI.
5 Players to Watch:
Austin Kubitza- SP Rice
Ryon Healy- 1B Oregon
Michael Aquino- DH Rice
Bradley Zimmer- RF San Francisco
Stephen Bougher- SP South Dakota State
For the most part, this regional should play out according to seeds. It’s hard to imagine San Francisco or South Dakota State getting the better of both Oregon and Rice. The Ducks and Owls have played better competition all year and should be able to excel in the pressure of the postseason. As for who comes out of the regional, it’s a tough call between Oregon and Rice. Injuries could play a major factor as Oregon could be without first baseman Ryon Healy and outfielder Brett Thomas. Healy is expected to start after missing the final game with a back injury against Utah. Thomas, on the other hand, is not expected to play after suffering a wrist injury weeks ago. If the Ducks are without both players, they could be in for a long weekend. Rice has arguably the best starting pitcher in the regional with Austin Kubitza. He could be a tough matchup for an Oregon team that struggles at times offensively. The Ducks are 22-7 at PK Park this season, while Rice is 17-6 on the road this season. Oregon advances, but it will come down to a final game on Monday.
3. San Francisco
4. South Dakota State