Oregon prepares to face South Dakota St
EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — When Oregon was named the No. 8 national seed in this year’s 64-team NCAA baseball tournament, former Ducks athletic director Pat Kilkenny told coach George Horton he got goose bumps.
Kilkenny was instrumental in bringing back Oregon’s baseball program five years ago after a 28-year hiatus. He lured Horton from Cal State Fullerton to restart the team.
In that short time, the Ducks have been to the postseason three times. This season they’re repeating as a national seed and host of a regional.
“He deserves those goose bumps,” Horton told reporters after the selection was made. “It was his brainstorm that started this whole concept.”
Oregon (45-15) will open the double-elimination tournament at PK Park with South Dakota State (35-22) on Friday night, after Rice (41-17) plays San Francisco (34-22).
Horton coached at Fullerton for 11 seasons, going to the College World Series six times. The Titans team won the national title in 2004, and he was twice the national coach of the year.
At Oregon, Horton built a program from the ground up in just 17 months, starting with 20 freshmen on a roster of 35. He had the full support of the university, which built PK Park in the shadow of Autzen Stadium.
Horton’s record at Oregon is now 177-124-1.
Horton said that the Ducks — who have seen many of their sports programs achieve national recognition in the last decade — have set a high bar.
“You almost feel like if you don’t accomplish something like this you’re behind the times,” he said.
This will be Oregon’s fifth overall postseason appearance. The Ducks advanced to the College World Series in 1954 and last season the team also hosted a Super Regional but was eliminated by Kent State.
South Dakota State, which won the Summitt League championship, is making its first NCAA tournament appearance. It is the Jackrabbits’ first meeting with the Ducks.
Rice, which won the Conference USA championship tournament, is making its 19th straight NCAA tournament appearance. The Owls won the 2003 College World Series under coach Wayne Graham, who is in his 22nd season.
San Francisco, runner-up in the West Coast Conference tournament, won an at-large bid to their third NCAA postseason appearance.
“When you look at the machine that’s happening there at Oregon, building the new field, putting $10-$15 million into the facility there for baseball, the backing of 3,000-4,000 fans. Then you look at Rice, who has won a national championship, who has had major league players, who has had great players, who has a hall of fame coach,” said Dons coach Nino Giarratano. “There’s two Hall of Fame coaches there with George Horton and Wayne Graham. So when you look at the caliber of coaching that’s going to be there and the quality of players, it’s going to be a very tough regional.”