Oregon club baseball team a win away from conference title

EUGENE, Ore. - They were ranked third in the nation last year before Western Washington stopped them at the end of the season.

Their record this year is 16-1, 12-0 in conference play.

They are now ranked eighth in the nation.

Next up? Western Washington.

The University of Oregon Duck Club Baseball Team plays a three-game series against their arch rival Western this weekend at PK Park.

One win will seal the conference title and send the team to regionals in Montana.

The Ducks Club Baseball Team - a competitive club team, not to be confused with the university's NCAA Division I team - normally plays their home games at Kaiser Stadium in Salem, so a chance to play at PK Park in front of their hometown fans has them fired up.

This has been a good year for the Ducks, and their record shows it.

This season they beat Boise St. 3-1; Montana 6-0; Weber St. 8-3.

They swept Oregon State in a three-game series 9-0, 8-4, and 10-0.

They beat Corban 1-0. They swept Seattle in a three-game series 14-10, 4-1, and 3-1.
They swept PSU 11-2, 11-1, and 7-0. And they swept Central Oregon Community College 11-1, 9-0, and 7-0.

Their only loss was against Utah St., 1-3.

Mikey Finneran, team coordinator, believes the team shows more maturity this season.

"I think the mentality of the team has really changed," Finneran said. "When I was a freshman there was a much more relaxed atmosphere about it. Now I think we care a lot more about the team and about winning. We definitely have our fun, but we want to win ball games."

Last season the Ducks were on a roll but were knocked out of national ranking when they lost two of three games to Western.

They have not forgotten it.

Finneran is looking forward to facing off against Western.

"We're going to play this weekend the same way we've played all season. We got really hot against Central Oregon Community College, hit the ball really well, and that gave us momentum to play these last three games and take conference and play Regionals."

Western Washington comes to PK Park this weekend with a record of 6-3.

If the Ducks take just one game of the three-game series, they clinch the conference title, which will then send them to Regionals in Missoula, Montana.

It is perhaps fate that this season depends on how well they do against Western - again -- the team that knocked them out of the ranking last year. As they say, these teams do not like each other.

"We were ranked third in the nation until the last series of the season, when Western beat us," said Nate Kristoff, team co-captain. But the Ducks drew the wild card and were invited to the Regionals, where the team seemed to collapse. "We lost two heartbreaking games, leaving 28 base runners on, against teams we had previously beaten. It was pretty disappointing. But it gave us a lot of fire coming into this year."

Kristoff credits some of the younger players on the team for this season's run of wins. "The season has gone really well. We've got a bunch of new guys who are really hungry to come in. Everyone has the same mindset going into it. It's a tight bunch, we've got some good chemistry."

The Ducks have been looking forward to the rematch against Western since they walked off the field in defeat last year. Playing Western in PK Park makes the rematch that much more important. "I think you'll see a lot of energy and a lot of excitement in the series against Western," Kristoff said. "We've got a lot of team spirit. I hope you'll see a lot of wins, and a little dog piling action going on."

Team co-captain Andrew Walzer also gives a lot of credit to the younger players. "This is my fourth year on the team. I think we've shown a lot of maturity as a team. We've filled a lot of the gaps we had last year with more timely hitting and pitching. A lot of our young guys have really stepped up. I can see our team being a powerhouse for the next few years with the talent we have with the younger guys."

Travis Reed, in his fifth year on the team and one of the three team co-captains, gives a lot of credit to the coaching staff. "When I first got on the team, there was only about 15 eligible players. So we started recruiting a little bit harder, going after kids who were athletes and who wanted to play. Baseball is what we love to do."

And despite having managed to establish a well-deserved bad reputation in previous years, which led to the team being put on probation, the team cleaned up their act, got off probation and decided to get serious.

"Last year we reached the number three ranking because of our senior leadership," Reed said. "They really stepped up. And our coach last year, Kyle Jones, decided it was time to stop goofing around and take practices seriously. He was dedicated; he gave up his last year of playing eligibility to coach. He ended up changing the dynamic of the team. This year, even though we have a different coach, we still have that mindset. The players who were on the team last year came back and told the new guys we can achieve success, we know how to win."

Aaron Trukositz, this year's Head Coach, put it this way: "I think the key to success this season was returning a lot of strong players from last season and also getting a lot of new players that could come in and contribute immediately. We are also very deep as a team. I feel comfortable putting any of our outfielders in the starting lineup, and any of pitchers could be starters if I needed them to be. We have already used five different starting pitchers this year and all of them have got the job done. Two big reasons are Nate Kristoff and Andrew Walzer, these senior captains have done a great job playing defense on the left side of the infield and batting in the top of the lineup all season, as well as being great team leaders."

Walzer predicts a lot of action this weekend. "I know they are going to be three good games," Walzer said. "All we need is one to win but we want to sweep them, especially after last year. We want a sweep. There will be a lot of action. We're playing at PK. We are going to have fans there. We are ready to play."

Trukositz said his team is very excited to play Western for the conference championship. "The returners remember that last year we had a similar situation, and we did not get the job done. As a team we are very focused about going out and playing our baseball and coming away with the conference championship. With the added excitement of playing in Eugene with a lot of our friends and families attending the games."

The three game series this weekend at PK begins with a double-header Saturday, the first game starts at 5:30 pm, followed by a third game on Sunday that starts at noon.