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Oregon Ducks Win The Pac-12 Baseball Tournament

It’s on to the NCAA tournament!

COLLEGE BASEBALL: MAY 26 Pac-12 Baseball Tournament Photo by Zac BonDurant/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

A funny thing happened on the way to the Pac-12 baseball championship...

#2 seed Oregon State not only did not make the finals; they didn’t survive out of pool play to reach the semifinals. #1 Stanford reached the semifinals and were doomed - having lost to Oregon, the Tree fell to #8 Arizona in the semis.

#4 USC? Gone. #3 Washington? Gone, dispatched by the Ducks. #5 Arizona State? Nope, go home, son.

What remained was an unimaginable final pitting the #6 Oregon Ducks against the #8 Arizona Wildcats. Who would prevail? Would it be the Wildcats, who currently had the hottest bats in the Pac-12? Would it be the Ducks, whose ignorable bullpen during the regular season was now suddenly impenetrable?

How was it that Oregon, who lost two of their primary starting pitchers before the season began, and were limping along having suffered an injury loss of ace Jace Stoffal - how are they even in this championship?

Bats and bullpen.

There’s an eternal yin/yang in baseball. To win championships, you need a balance of offense and pitching/defense. It doesn’t matter what the bats do if your pitching loses games for your side. Pitching does not score runs. Pitching literally does not win games, but it can lose games for you in a heartbeat. But great pitching needs bats to back it up and win games. Yin/Yang.

That’s how Oregon won this championship. We’ve known that the bats and the offense were there; in fact, this team is likely to go down as Oregon’s greatest offensive team thus far. The pitching? Wonky, at least during many points of the season. The starting pitching would be great, but then the pen might fall short. Sometimes the relievers held on to bail out the starters, and sometimes they did not.

We know about the Ducks offense; however, it was the bullpen that drove this team to a championship.

Thus, the stage was set for a fantastic Pac-12 championship game.

Rightie Turner Spoljaric got the call to the mound in the most important game of his Ducks freshman career. In his six innings, he did just enough to keep away the hot batting hand of the Wildcats, and let his offense do the talking.

Both sides were scoreless in the first two innings, and the tension was real.

Arizona hit the board first with this RBI double in the top of the third inning:

The Ducks responded in the bottom of the third. The ever-dangerous Rikuu Nishida got on base due to a fielding error, and then stole second to extend his single-season steals record. That’s all that Colby Shade needed to drive him home and tie the game.

With Spoljaric keeping the Wildcats off the board in the top of the fourth inning, the Ducks offense took the lead in the bottom.

A couple of singles lead to Gavin Grant plating the lead runner.

That was followed by a wicked hopper from Rikuu Nishida that the shortstop could not handle, leading to another RBI single.

With the Ducks up 3-1, Arizona responded with a run in the top of the fifth inning. Their bats are that good, and you’re not going to deny every swing.

With Oregon up 3-2, Arizona tied it up in the sixth inning off a very impressive inside-the-park home run:

And that outstanding hit by the Wildcats tied the game at 3-3.

In the bottom of the sixth, Jacob Walsh again carries the Mighty Ducks on his back for the lead.

With the lead in the seventh inning, Oregon brought in Austin Anderson for relief. Anderson is a crazy pitcher. He often has control lapses, and yet when he hits the zone, batters have a difficult time with him. His last few outings have been enlightening, and even though he can cause your heart to palpitate with nervousness, he gets the job done. It’s the craziest thing I’ve ever seen.

Anderson allowed a hit, but ended the top with a scoreless strikeout.

In the bottom of the seventh inning, Arizona’s premier pitching led to two Ducks being sent on base after being hit by a pitch. That set up Tanner Smith for the insurance single that the Ducks would need to win this game.

Arizona’s bats would have the final say in the top of the eighth inning, with a home run to close to within one run.

The home run was off Matt Dallas, who had come in to relieve Anderson. Regardless, Dallas came up big in closing off the Wildcats in the ninth, sending the Ducks to their first Pac-12 championship.

This final - and the tournament - were both won off the Oregon bullpen. A bullpen that seemed at times hapless in the season ended with unimaginable numbers in the Pac-12 tournament: The Ducks’ bullpen allowed just three runs in 24.1 innings of work, which translates into a 1.11 ERA.

Oregon baseball is automatically in the NCAA tournament with this win. They are likely to host a regional, but we’ll find out for sure on Selection Monday - as it were - when the NCAA selects the postseason lineup. The selection show is on Monday, 5/29, at 9:00 am PT. You can see it on ESPN2.