Gold: Pac-12 Baseball Tournament delivers the drama...now what?
This is exactly what the Pac-12 Baseball Tournament was created — and modified — for.
Drama, excitement and, most importantly, opportunity.
And Arizona got just that, as the 8th-seeded Wildcats had their best hitter at the plate down to their final out with a Pac-12 Tournament title and a guaranteed NCAA Tournament appearance on the line. But mighty Chase Davis popped it up with a runner on 1st, sending No. 6-seeded Oregon to its first Pac-12 baseball title — regular season or tournament — in program history and 1st baseball conference title of any kind since 1954.
Now, of course, the Wildcats wait, as the game ended with Arizona as D1Baseball’s first team out. Arizona could have punched its ticket with the win, but alas, Chip Hale and Co. must pray that the baseball gods smile down on their massive 14-4 run-rule win over Stanford on Friday.
Here are some thoughts from the Tournament that was and for the Tournament that will be…
Well, that was a success
No. 6 vs. No. 8 for all the marbles? That’s a win. Stanford and Washington getting an extra day of rest to prepare for the NCAA Tournament? That’s a win. USC, Oregon State and Arizona State getting an extra two days? That’s a win.
When conference coaches went back to the drawing board last year after seeing the results of the 1st Pac-12 Baseball Tournament last year — roasted arms and toasted bats — they got it right by modifying the format to pool play.
Last year’s wacky-and-wild Tournament featured one of the most insane games in college baseball history — UCLA’s 25-22 semifinal win over Oregon State in 10 innings — and wore out every last player, culminating in a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup between Stanford and Oregon State.
The then-No. 2 Cardinal were pummeled in their College World Series opener against Arkansas and bounced by Auburn in the loser’s bracket. That same Tigers squad knocked out the heavily favored Beavers in the Corvallis Super Regional and took out UCLA in the Auburn Regional. Oregon and Arizona were knocked out in the regionals as well.
Can Stanford bounce back … and see it through?
The Cardinal might be looking at Friday’s loss to Arizona as a blessing in disguise. Did it have to go down quite so ugly as a run-rule loss? No, no it didn’t.
But after last year’s marathon and CWS thud, Tommy Troy and Co. are basking in 24 extra hours of rejuvenation, looking to get its pitching staff back on track, particularly Quinn Mathews. The Wildcats really roughed up the Pac-12 pitcher of the year, teeing off for 8 runs on 6 hits in just 1 2/3 innings on Friday, putting the bullpen to extra use. After getting some big run in Wednesday’s win as well, the Stanford bullpen could use the ice baths.
The Cardinal offense needs to kick it up a notch, as well, as Troy struggled Thursday and Drew Bowser and Alberto Rios were quiet on Friday.
After dropping two straight for the first time since mid-April, this may have been just the kind of wake-up call that David Esquer can use to keep his team focused.
Oregon has its Ducks in a row again
There may not have been a streakier team in all of college baseball this season than the Danger Ducks.
Oregon went 4-0 to start the year, then promptly dropped 3 straight. Then they won 5, lost 4 and won 11 straight. Two losses followed that big streak, then 4 wins and then 2 more losses. Then after splitting two to open the Cal series in late-April, Oregon won 5 and lost 3. Another late-season slide, including a series sweep at the hands of Washington, saw Oregon’s NCAA Tournament dip with a 5-game mid-May swoon, only for the Ducks to rebound with 2 wins over Utah to close out the regular season.
Now…breathe. The biggest streak is over — Oregon’s near 70-year stretch of baseball futility, save for a couple decades there when it was a club sport.
The Ducks already stood a good chance at being an at-large entry, with an RPI that ranks in the top 35, but now there’s no worrying. Oregon already did its worrying earlier this week, needing a pair of come-from-behind wins just to make it to the tourney title game. In its opener, Oregon came back to beat Cal, 3-2, then used a 9th-inning rally to stun Stanford, ultimately beating the Cardinal in 10, 8-6.
Winners of 6 straight now, the Ducks carry a ton of momentum into the tournament.
Washington needs to shake it off
The Huskies have put together a fine season under first year head coach Jason Kelly, who has brought his terrific pitching acumen back to the program.
But this last recent run has to be a little worrisome for Washington, which has allowed double-digit runs in four of its last five games, all losses. The timing is certainly a bit strange — entering the recent fireworks show, the Huskies had been allowing under 4 runs in their previous 8 games. In fact, prior to the unpleasant stretch, Washington had allowed 10 runs or more just 6 times.
Starters Jared Engman (2 innings, 7 runs) and Kiefer Lord (2 innings, 6 runs) both really struggled in the tournament.
Who feels good heading into Monday?
In addition to Oregon, which earned the league’s lone automatic bid, Stanford, Oregon State, Washington, USC and Arizona State all feel certain that their names will be called. D1Baseball currently has Stanford pegged as a regional host and 1-seed, Oregon and Oregon State as 2 seeds, and Washington, USC and Arizona State as 3 seeds.
That represents a bounce-back year for the league. Last year the Pac-12 had 5 NCAA Tournament teams, a year after getting 6. That was an increase of 1 over 2019 and 2 over 2016 through 2018, when only 4 programs made it.
But it sure will be weird with UCLA sidelined, though. The Bruins, who won it all in 2013, have been to 5 straight tournaments.
Did Arizona do enough?
Will it end with 6, though?
The Wildcats are hoping some recency bias kicks in for the selection committee, as a 9-4 stretch seemingly woke Arizona up from a sustained slumber. The Wildcats were downright bad for a long stretch of Pac-12 play, getting swept by UCLA, Arizona State, Oregon and Oregon State. That’s going to be tough for selectors to ignore.
So, too, though, might Arizona’s bats be. Between Davis, Kiko Romero and Mac Bingham, the Wildcats boast one of the most prolific hitting trios in the Pac-12.
We know voters dig the long ball, so perhaps Davis and Romero’s combined 40 dingers do the trick.