George Horton and Mike Gillespie were California junior-college coaches when they first met on a baseball field.
Horton was at Cerritos College in the 1980s while Gillespie ran the program at College of the Canyons.
Gillespie was hired as USC's baseball coach in 1987 and four years later Horton joined the staff at Cal State Fullerton to renew a rivalry with Gillespie. When Horton took over at Oregon in 2009, he faced off against Gillespie at UC Irvine.
The two college baseball lifers will compete against each other for the final time when Oregon arrives at UC Irvine for a three-game series beginning Friday. Gillespie announced before the season that he would retire following his 10th season with the Anteaters.
"Coach Gillespie and I go way back, so we have a nice token of our appreciation for our relationship to give him," said Horton, whose pitching coach, Jason Dietrich, served in that role for Gillespie at UC Irvine from 2008-12. "I have great respect for him and his ballclub. That will be a battle because they are really well coached."
UC Irvine (25-18) was getting votes in some polls before it lost three games to Fullerton over the weekend and dropped a 12-0 decision to UCLA on Tuesday. Oregon (21-21) was No. 54 in the RPI last week before losses to Portland, USC and Oregon State dropped it to No. 79, 10 spots ahead of the Anteaters.
Oregon follows up the trip to Irvine with a rematch against sixth-ranked Oregon State in a nonconference game at PK Park on Tuesday before returning to Pac-12 play against Utah on May 11. The Beavers beat the Ducks 4-3 on Tuesday.
"This is an opportunity because Irvine has beaten some good teams and has some good wins," Horton said. "We blew an opportunity to beat a good team in the Beavers that would have been an RPI boost. That is what the next four games represent; we are trying to win as many as we can."
Oregon likely needs to win at least 10 of its final 13 games to get into contention for an at-large NCAA Regional bid. The Ducks are eighth in the Pac-12 at 8-13 with a trip to first-place UCLA still ahead on the schedule.
"We are fighting for our lives," Horton said. "We have to do something spectacular down the stretch drive, but with our quality of pitching, it isn't just a coach wishing and hoping, we could end up having a strong record down the stretch. Stranger things have happened in wild-card baseball at the major-league level. People have snuck in at the last second in college and sometimes the hot teams do something in the playoffs. That is what we are fighting for."
Oregon sophomore Kenyon Yovan is one of 25 players on the watch list for the John Olerud Award given to the top two-way player in the nation. He strengthened his case this week by striking out 15 in eight innings during a 9-2 win over USC on Saturday and then hitting a homer in the loss to Oregon State.
"We have been hoping that he catches fire," Horton said of Yovan, who is batting .225 with two homers and six RBIs. "His batting average isn't real high but he's a confident kid. He's been in and out of the batting order, so we are trying to get him some consistency there and he's looking more and more comfortable with each at-bat. Hopefully, along with the power that he has, we can get that line-drive base hit more frequently too."