Visions of Omaha

Oregon enters NCAA tourney banged up
Oregon pitcher Jake Reed (5) tracks down Oregon State's Ryan Barnes' (33) hit during an NCAA baseball game at PK Park in Eugene, Ore., on Sunday, May 19, 2013. Oregon State won, 12-2. (AP Photo/The Register-Guard, Ivar Vong)AP

EUGENE — Before Oregon can start its preparation for South Dakota State and a 6 p.m. Friday game in the NCAA tournament at PK Park, the Ducks will be trying to heal up from a slew of recent ailments.

"My biggest concern about my ball club is getting healthy," UO coach George Horton said Monday in the wake of the NCAA field being announced. "We've got a lot of dings (but) I'm assuming we're going to be close to 100 percent this weekend."

The Ducks played their final regular-season game on Sunday at Utah without three regulars in the lineup: first baseman Ryon Healy (back), left fielder Brett Thomas (wrist) and right fielder Scott Heineman (back).

Horton suggested that Oregon's most valuable person might turn out to be athletic trainer Tom Embree, "if they're all playing (this weekend) ... it'll be nice to get those kids back."

Healy, who led the Ducks in home runs and runs batted but has missed five of Oregon's final nine games, predicted he'll play Friday, adding "I'm doing a lot better, I'm getting there.

"A lot of (the reason for not playing at Utah) was precautionary. It was a business decision to rest me."

Horton said the Ducks "have our fingers crossed" on regaining Thomas, who normally bats leadoff but has missed the past five games. Heineman left Saturday's game before an injury hit his replacement Nick Catalano, whose dislocated finger "looks pretty good," Horton said.

Also held out of the season-ending series at Utah was relief pitcher Jimmie Sherfy, who ranks second in the nation with his school-record 20 saves.

"A weekend off can't hurt," Sherfy said. "It was a good thing for my arm, to give it a little rest. It definitely feels back to a hundred percent so it was good."

The Ducks already knew they were going to host an NCAA regional, with that announcement made on Sunday.

But there was a loud cheer from Oregon players and their coaches when Monday's unveiling of the entire bracket listed the Ducks as the No. 8 seed nationally, which means if Oregon can advance out of this weekend, the super regional the following weekend will also be at PK Park. All games this weekend in Eugene will be broadcast on ESPN3.

The double-elimination regional round can be won Sunday or extended to a final game Monday. If necessary, the Monday game in Corvallis would be played at 5 p.m., and the Monday game in Eugene would be played at 6 p.m.

"We deserved it," Horton said, citing the strength of Oregon's schedule and the 45-14 record of the Ducks, along with a second-place finish in the Pac-12.

Still, Horton said, "I was a little nervous" until he found out Oregon's national seeding.

Oregon State received the No. 3 national seed, which OSU coach Pat Casey termed "great."

"I was prepared anywhere three to five, I thought we'd really be locked in somewhere there, so three was wonderful," Casey added. "I'm happy for our guys. It's a great honor."

The Beavers (45-10) will also open their regional on Friday, meeting Texas-San Antonio (35-23) at 5 p.m. at Goss Stadium after UC Santa Barbara (34-23) and Texas A&M (32-27) play at noon. Casey said he was largely unfamiliar with the three teams coming to Corvallis, though UCSB is coached by Andrew Checketts, a former OSU pitcher who is in his second season directing the Gauchos after serving three seasons as Horton's pitching coach at Oregon.

In South Dakota State (35-22), the Ducks draw a team making its first NCAA appearance after winning the Summit League tournament. Rice (41-17) tied for the regular season title in Conference USA and then won the league tournament. USF (34-22) finished tied for second in the West Coast Conference regular season and then lost in the title game of the WCC tournament. The Owls and Dons play Friday at 2 p.m. Tickets are available at goducks.com.

Oregon has played USF in recent seasons, though not this year, and Horton has known Rice coach Wayne Graham dating back to their days as junior college rivals, and the two have met often as college coaches, with the Owls in their 19th consecutive NCAA tournament.

"I don't know much about South Dakota State, but my assistants are going to work on that," Horton said.

If Oregon wins the regional this weekend, the Ducks will be matched up against the winner of a regional in Raleigh, N.C., being hosted by North Carolina State that also includes Binghamton, William and Mary and Mississippi.

Oregon hosted and won a regional last season before losing a best-of-three series to Kent State in a super regional at PK Park.

If OSU wins its regional, the Beavers will then host the winner of a regional in Manhattan, Kan., with Kansas State hosting Wichita State, Bryant and Arkansas.

Two other Pac-12 teams are in the 64-team field, with UCLA hosting a regional and Arizona State playing in a regional hosted by Cal State Fullerton.

"The fact we only had four teams in is an eyebrow raiser to me," Horton said, citing the past success of the conference, including Arizona's national title last season. "We'll just take the four horses we have and see if we can make the Pac-12 look good."


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