Oregon and Arizona are one game apart in the Pac-12 standings, but the Wildcats have more on the line when the two teams wrap up the regular season at PK Park this weekend.
Arizona (32-21, 12-15) is in the mix for an NCAA regional berth, but likely needs a win or two against the Ducks to secure a spot in the postseason. Oregon (25-27, 11-16) will finish its season on Saturday needing a sweep to avoid its first losing season since 2009 when it finished 13-40 in the first season after baseball was reinstated under George Horton.
"It is not our goal or objective to have a winning season, quite frankly, but I've only had one losing season in 41 years of coaching and I'm not interested in making this No. 2," Horton said. "It is a small consolation prize, but it is worth fighting for. If we play real well, we could climb up in the standings. It is not where we want to be, but it is significant, and we could create some momentum for next year."
Oregon confirmed this week that Horton will be back next season and he should have plenty of returning players with Kyle Kasser, Daniel Patzlaff, Taylor Travess, and Jesse Hobaica as the only seniors to be introduced before their final home game. Juniors Jakob Goldfarb, Braden Stutzman, and Isaiah Stolp will also be honored as graduates who could return next season while juniors Matt Mercer and Parker Kelly will likely be drafted next month along with Goldfarb and have a choice to skip their senior season.
"I cherish the opportunity Rob Mullens gave me to be back next year and I already expressed to him that we need to change some things," Horton said Wednesday.
Freshman Cullen Kafka will audition for a spot in Oregon's rotation next year when he makes his first start in a conference game in the opener Thursday night at 7 p.m. With the series moved up one day, Horton elected to put freshman Kolby Somers in the bullpen rather than pitch him on short rest and kept Kenyon Yovan and Matt Mercer in their usual spots on Friday and Saturday, respectively.
"I'm excited to go out there and do my best for the team and hopefully get a win," Kafka said. "Every time I go out there I am trying to make an impression for the coaches. I need to go out and stay with my game."
The 6-foot-3 right-hander allowed one run in 7 1/3 innings during two nonleague appearances against Oregon State earlier this month. He has allowed five earned runs in 14 2/3 innings during May to lower his ERA to 6.63.
"Cullen has definitely earned it," Mercer said. "He's had a bit of a roller coaster, but I think he's figured out that when he's at his best, the ball is sinking and when he locates the ball, he's real good."