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Oregon itching for Omaha once again

EUGENE — Jake Reed's first two seasons at Oregon have ended in the same frustrating way.

The Ducks played well enough in the regular season to stay home for the postseason, but then didn't play well enough to avoid staying home for good.

The Ducks lost in the NCAA Super Regional at PK Park in 2012 and then ended last season by losing in a regional at home.

"I feel like we've kind of pushed that rock to the top of the mountain and now it's about pushing it over and finally getting to Omaha," said Reed, a junior pitcher going from starter to reliever this year. "It's what coach Horton came here to do and what I came here to do and what everybody else came here to do.

"We've been knocking on that door the last couple years."

Horton, too, is getting tired of having that door shut short of Omaha.

"We haven't finished," he said. "In the last two years I thought we had a competitive ball club and won our share of one- and two-run games and put ourselves in a position to host regionals and super regionals with national seeds and we squandered those opportunities. ... We didn't finish the job. We put ourselves in position to make our way to Omaha and didn't get that done."

Oregon is again projected to be in the mix for a trip to the College World Series after being ranked No. 6 in the Collegiate Baseball preseason poll.

"That is something I feel that we definitely earned the last few years," Reed said. "It is something we had last year. We were ranked high at the beginning of the season, and I don't think it affected us negatively, which sometimes it does.

"Those expectations are just a number before the season; it really doesn't mean anything.."

Oregon returns most of its pitching staff but has to replace some key hitters from last season when it finished 48-16, including a second-place finish in the Pac-12 at 22-8.

Oregon returns all three weekend starters from last year, but Reed is expected to move to the closer role to replace Jimmy Sherfy with Garrett Cleavinger also in the back of the bullpen.

Junior Tommy Thorpe, who was 7-5 with a 2.16 ERA, and sophomore Cole Irvin (12-3, 2.48) return to the rotation and probably will be joined by highly touted freshman Matt Krook, the No. 35 overall pick in the MLB draft who turned down the Miami Marlins to join the Ducks. That would give Horton three left-handed starters.

"The only thing would be maybe if one of the strongest teams in the conference or down the road in a regional if we ran into a team laden with right-handed hitters," Horton said. "Good lefties, most coaches, even at the major-league level, would take a good lefty over a good righty. I don't know if I have ever had a staff with too many left-handed pitchers."

Senior Jeff Gold, sophomore Porter Clayton, and freshmen Trent Paddon and Stephen Nogosek also are competing for a starting spot.

Oregon returns second baseman Aaron Payne, who started 58 games, and third baseman Scott Heineman, who batted .278 with four homers. Sophomore first baseman Mitchell Tolman batted .315 and outfielder Tyler Baumgartner hit .272 with 22 RBIs. Outfielder Kyle Garlick missed most of last season with a wrist injury.

"We look pretty strong right now," Heineman said. "We will see how it plays out, but I am excited about the season. We lost some big bats, but we have guys to replace them.

"It will be more of a collective effort this year as opposed to a one-man crew, but we are excited about that."

First baseman Ryon Healy was often that one man last year, hitting .333 with 11 home runs, but he left after his junior year when he was drafted by Oakland in the third round. Four-year starter J.J. Altobelli is also gone from the infield.

"Is there enough? We're about to find out," Horton said.

The Ducks will open the season on Feb. 14 in Hawaii as they begin to see if they have enough to finally advance to Omaha.

"We're a pretty strong team," Heineman said. "We don't really look much into rankings. It is an honor to be that high in somebody's mind, but we want to be the No. 1 team when it's all said and done."