by Rob Moseley
With the halfway point of the regular season nearly upon them, the Oregon baseball team faces a significant hurdle this weekend in their quest for a Pac-12 title.
The Ducks, 18-6 and ranked No. 11 by Baseball America, will play their first conference road series of the season, beginning Friday at Stanford. Due to rain in the forecast, the Ducks and Cardinal (8-10) will play a doubleheader Friday at 3 p.m. While a game is still scheduled for Saturday at 2 p.m., it could be pushed back by weather.
Oregon enters the series tied for first in the conference at 5-1 with Washington and UCLA. The Ducks began the current road trip with a hiccup at San Francisco on Tuesday before rallying to win 12-5 on Wednesday.
"I think we're real close to where we want to be," said senior outfielder Tyler Baumgartner, Oregon's leading hitter at .358. "Besides the game on Tuesday, we've been playing pretty solid ball. I think guys are in the right place — everybody's feeling comfortable in their spots, and everybody knows their role and is contributing in a positive way.
"I'm expecting big things from us. We're in a good spot right now, going into our first conference road games."
The Ducks are 8-1 on the road this season, having swept four games at Hawaii and three at Loyola Marymount before kicking off the 15-game homestand that ended prior to the games at San Francisco. They'll remain on the road next week, with two midweek games at Gonzaga and then a weekend showdown with the Huskies in Seattle.
"There's obstacles to being on the road and travel, and obviously not the comfort of being at PK Park," starting pitcher Jeff Gold said. "So it's a little bit different. But we're excited to get into conference play and get on our mission to win the Pac-12 championship."
The Cardinal opened conference play by losing two of three at home last weekend to USC. The Ducks took two of three from the Trojans in Eugene a week earlier.
Entering the weekend, all 18 games for Stanford this spring have been started by true freshman pitchers, a streak that will continue against the Ducks. The Cardinal were scheduled to throw right-hander Cal Quantrill in the opener, with the son of former major leaguer Paul Quantrill looking to improve on a 3-2 record in his first six starts, and a 3.60 ERA.
Right-handers Brett Hanewich (0-1, 1.46) and the 6-foot-9 Chris Viall (1-1, 3.00) have rounded out the weekend rotation to this point in the season.
"They're a great program and always have been," Gold said. "We're a tough team, and I think we can go head to head with anyone, but it should be a good series this weekend. They're Stanford — they know what's up."
The Cardinal and Ducks played a dramatic series in Eugene last season, with Oregon winning twice in its final at-bat during the three-game sweep. Second baseman Aaron Payne, now a senior, had an RBI single in the ninth to beat future No. 1 MLB draft pick Mark Appel on Friday night, and Payne scored on a suicide sqeeze by Mitchell Tolman for the winning run on Sunday.
Following the series with USC, Oregon continued Pac-12 play with a sweep of Utah at home last week. Left-hander Tommy Thorpe was named Pac-12 pitcher of the week after a dominant start Friday, and Gold improved to 6-0 in six starts with a win Sunday.