George Horton voted UCLA No. 1 in the coaches poll each week this season while knowing that the Bruins were waiting at the end of Oregon’s schedule to possibly give the Ducks a push into the baseball postseason.
Instead, Oregon’s NCAA Tournament hopes went away before top-ranked UCLA (45-8, 22-5) arrives at PK Park for a three-game series beginning Thursday. The Ducks (27-27, 10-17) held on to slight postseason dreams until the last week when they lost two of three games at USC followed by a loss to UC Riverside.
"We are trying to finish with a winning season, which is significant,” Horton said Wednesday. “If you are a coach or athlete, you don’t want to look back and say you had a losing season. That is a small consolation prize, we are trying to get into the playoffs and do better things than that, but like I told the team, this is all we have to hang our hat on.”
Oregon will miss the postseason for the fourth year in a row, leaving Horton’s future with the program in question as he closes out his 11th season after the school brought back baseball. His contract includes a mutual option for next season at a salary of $500,000, but the coach said he had not had any discussions with his bosses about next year.
“I don’t even want to talk about that at this point,” he said.
Oregon has until June 16 to notify Horton if it will exercise or decline the option. A UO spokesman said that athletic director Rob Mullens will evaluate the program at the end of the season before determining Horton’s future.
“I love these coaches,” Oregon junior third baseman Spencer Steer said. “They are the ones who recruited me and made my college experience what it is.”
Just about a month ago, Oregon was 22-13, including a 7-5 mark in the Pac-12, before being swept at home by Stanford to begin a run of 14 losses in 19 games, including a 3-12 mark in conference play. The Ducks are ninth in the Pac-12 during a season that Horton graded a “D” on his report card.
“We had high expectations going in and we did pretty well out of the gate to where it looked like there was a chance we would be more competitive in conference,” he said. “Unfortunately, you can go back to a set of circumstances or say we just flat out didn’t get it done. That’s on me. We’ve got to play better. I’ve got to prepare them better.”
With No. 1 starter Kenyon Yovan out all season with a hand injury and Ryne Nelson moved to the bullpen following a heel injury, Oregon’s starting rotation has been in flux all season. Robert Ahlstrom (5-6, 3.95 ERA) will start the opener against UCLA followed by Cullen Kafka (5-5, 5.48) on Friday with Saturday’s starter uncertain.
The Bruins will start Ryan Garcia (8-0, 1.30 ERA) and Jack Ralston (10-0, 2.17) on Thursday and Friday, respectively, followed by Jesse Bergin (5-0, 4.09). UCLA holds a 1½-game lead over Stanford and Oregon State, who are both 20-6 in conference play.
“We have this opportunity in our hands against the No. 1 team in America so all we can think about is finishing strong,” UO sophomore outfielder Jonny DeLuca said.