Just because the Oregon Ducks aren't playing for regionals anymore doesn't mean they are struggling to find motivation heading into their final series of the season this weekend.
"Oh man, what doesn't motivate me this weekend?" second baseman Danny Pulfer said. "You know what, we might not be in a regional spot, but I wouldn't want to play anybody else right now."
The Ducks have an opportunity to end the season with a consolation, thanks-for-playing prize as they host the No. 6 Oregon State Beavers in the Civil War series. It will be the first Civil War series to be played at PK Park.
But on top of that, the Beavers are fresh off loosing their first weekend series of the year, just a week ago. Falling to the USC Trojans caused the Beavers to slip from two to six in the national rankings.
To add a little fuel to the Ducks upset fire, the UCLA Bruins and Arizona State Sun Devils are each one game behind the Beavers in the Pac-10 standings. If the Ducks can take two out of three this weekend and either UCLA or Arizona State can win their series, the Beavers would have gone from a seemingly certain Pac-10 championship, to a late season disaster.
"I'd rather anyone be the Pac-10 champions besides the Beavers, to be honest," third baseman J.J. Altobelli said.However, for all the lessons that Duck fans have learned this year, one is that motivation doesn't always mean a whole lot.
After taking two out of three from the Stanford Cardinal and then sweeping the Gonzaga Bulldogs in a two game series, the Ducks were clinging to their postseason lives. If they swept the Washington State Cougars last weekend, then the Civil War would have had more reasons to be a blood bath. Instead, the Ducks lost two out of three to the ninth ranked team in the Pac-10, and probably provided a fitting end to their postseason dreams.
Regardless of whether they swept last weekend or not, this team didn't deserve a regional birth. Even if they had run the table after Stanford, the Ducks have a 74 RPI. All season long this team had trouble taking care of business, and mentally, some players had checked out long before they were mathematically eliminated.
Physically, they didn't have the experience to allow them to win close games. Example: the series against the California Golden Bears, where the Ducks lost two games on walk off hits by the Bears. This season, the Ducks are 5-12 in one-run games.
The inexperience and immaturity has also translated to their inability to handle adversity. The Ducks have not won a game this year when trailing after six innings. Against the Bruins, the Ducks were beat into submission with each passing game of that sweep. In the final game of the series, the Ducks were two-hit by a freshman (OK, he was drafted in the sixth round out of high school). Pulfer was outspoken after that game, saying that some guys had already given up on the season.
But I don't mean to bring down the moral of Duck fans. Even though the Ducks aren't playing for the postseason, they are playing for the next best thing--to be the spoiler. A series loss to the Ducks would probably eliminate any hopes the Beavers have of hosting a super regional, should they advance that far.
Oregon's ace Tyler Anderson will be on the mound Friday night in what will be his final outing in an Oregon uniform. The projected first round pick in this year's MLB Draft will face Beaver Sam Gaviglio, who sports an 11-1 record and a 1.72 earned run average. On Satruday, Alex Keudell will be up against Josh Osich, who threw a no-hitter against the Bruins earlier this season.
For the Ducks, this series could come down to their ability to execute through small-ball. With the level of pitching on display in this series, runs will be at a premium. The Ducks won't expect to have an offensive onslaught like they did against Stanford.
Should the Oregon bullpen hold their water when called upon, one or two runs could be what decide the series. Obviously, the numbers don't favor the Ducks.
If Oregon needs to find an extra bit of something to sway a close game in their favor, hopefully Anderson's final Oregon appearance becomes a rallying point for this team. For everything he has done for Oregon Baseball, there isn't a guy that deserves a win more.
"Our goal this season has become this three game series," Pulfer said, "and if we can win it, if we can sweep it, if we can do whatever it takes to beat the Beavers."
Who knows, maybe the Ducks have just been saving all their energy this year for this series. Let's look at it like that.