Oregon Ducks baseball began 2022 with designs on keeping apace of the 2021 season - even if the rest of NCAA baseball didn’t quite view things in the same lens. In 2021, the Ducks enjoyed season successes that lead to Oregon hosting an NCAA regional. They would lose their regional to LSU at home, but felt good about the season, ending at 39-16.
Oregon opened up the season talking about 2022 as a “reload, not rebuild” season. The Ducks were looking at dealing with the loss of 2021 standouts Aaron Zavala, Kenyon Yovan, and Gabe Matthews. Oregon was bully on their pitching staff, highlighted by Isaac Ayon, Kolby Somers, and the addition of transfer Adam Maier.
The Ducks were also looking for a return to hosting a regional in 2022. The Pac-12 coaches poll did not agree, voting Oregon as 5th place with pre-season favorite Stanford garnering the top position in the poll.
Oregon sputtered at their 2022 start in losing 3 of 4 in their opener against San Diego (in San Diego) back in February, but they followed with a four-game sweep of St. John’s. The new-found Ducks offensive firepower kicked into gear in the last of the San Diego games and the onslaught continued against St. Johns, with Oregon prevailing 73-20 in four games. It was time to be excited about Oregon’s ability to generate runs - LOTS of runs.
In March, the Ducks split a series against UC Santa Barbara and then opened Pac-12 play by doing the improbable; taking a series against the Stanford Cardinal at The Farm. In reality, it was in the middle of March that we started seeing mediocre pitching from Oregon, but it was shaded by the incredible offensive bursts that the Ducks were producing. As a result, Oregon was winning games against very good teams.
The Ducks swept the Utah Utes, gaining the #1 spot in the Pac-12...and that would be the high point of the season, even as they were unaware of what the rest of the season would bring. Oregon took down eventual #19 Gonzaga in Spokane, winning the first of both seasonal contests against the Bulldogs. This was followed by a series win against USC and easy wins vs. San Francisco. All was right in Duckland, and Oregon was on fire, marching to take the Pac-12 by storm.
Then April rolled around, and UCLA said, “Hold my beer.”
As the Oregon fanbase was looking elsewhere - at basketball and spring football - Oregon’s bats went into a decided cooling-off period. While the pitching was keeping the enemy at bay, the Ducks were having trouble mustering runs. The result was a sweep by the Bruins by a combined score of 12-9.
Oregon brushed it off by defeating Ball State in 3 of 4 games of their series, and followed it up with a crushing series sweep of the Washington Huskies in Seattle. With the sweep, the Ducks were on a roll.
Then, eventual 9th-place Pac-12 low dweller Washington State came to Eugene and convincingly took the weekend series. Cracks were beginning to show in the Oregon game, but the following series win against Cal taped over the cracks in the Oregon game - namely in the Ducks’ pitching.
Oregon prevailed in their series against the Cal Bears because their pitching kept up with the lack of offensive contribution. The pitching was good in the first two games, but in the third game, Cal did not find the fence and still defeated the Ducks with singles and errors by Oregon.
It was May 1st. The beginning of May was when the Ducks began to stumble; and stumble they did. May 1st was the day were Oregon would drop six in a row, losing contests to Cal, Oregon State, and UC San Diego. While the game scores were close, Oregon could not connect their bats.
The Ducks rebounded, however, and closed their season on a positive note. They defeated nationally ranked Gonzaga. They took their first-ever series win of the Arizona State Sun Devils in Arizona. Then, Oregon swept the Arizona Wildcats at Eugene. The Ducks did not have a lock on another regional, but with momentum going into the Pac-12 tournament they would be in the conversation.
That conversation never happened.
Oregon’s tournament season never lifted off the runway; it crashed and burned. The Ducks continually gave up home runs as their bats could not keep Oregon in the game. The Ducks immediately bowed out of the inaugural Pac-12 baseball tournament, losing in straight games to the Arizona teams that they had beaten in previous weekends. Oregon’s bats could not connect at the same time that their pitchers could not avoid giving up home runs. The Ducks were first out of the tournament.
The Ducks may have killed their chance of hosting a regional again, but the NCAA tapped Oregon for an at-large berth in the Louisville Regional. It was an excellent draw for the Ducks, given their less-than-amazing showing in the Pac-12 tournament. They were up against three other teams that they had a chance to defeat and advance.
Oregon would not capitalize. They again gave up the long ball and only batted well against a lowly Ohio Valley Conference team. The Ducks were eliminated in their third game, ending their season at 36-25 (18-12 Pac-12 - 4th place).
It was a very disappointing season that hoped for more, but that shouldn’t overshadow the highlights of the 2022 season. Oregon set a record for doubles on the year with 121. Six Ducks batted .300 or better on the year: Bennett Thompson, Colby Shade, Josh Kasevich, Tanner Smith, Anthony Hall, and Brennan Milone. Smith, Hall, and Milone also hit double-digit home runs.
The Ducks go into the off-season licking some serious wounds. Despite the offensive high points and being #1 early in the conference season, Oregon did not pitch or hit well in post-season, when it mattered. That’s a puzzle that the Oregon Ducks will have to solve going into 2023.