Raise your hand if you were expecting an Oregon-Arizona final at the Pac-12 baseball tournament in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Very few hands would most likely be raised as these two teams didn’t really pull out all the stops to get into this tournament. Oregon was a 6-seed and Arizona was an 8-seed for a reason.
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The Ducks were losers of five of their last seven, including a home sweep by Washington, the team they just defeated 12-7 in the semifinals. If Oregon hadn’t won its last two games against last place Utah, this could be a completely different article.
As for the Wildcats, they entered the Pac-12 Tournament with a losing conference record of 12-18. But with the way they’ve been crushing baseball over the course of this week, that record should probably be flipped to 18-12.
Arizona had a rough month of April and the month ended with a sweep to the Beavers in Corvallis. But once the calendar turned and the weather warmed up, the Wildcats’ bats warmed up good. That 21-20 victory over Stanford should have been an indication of what the Wildcats had in store for the tournament.
They have scored in double digits in each of the Wildcats’ three games, including the 14-4 victory over the Cardinal in the semifinals.
Oregon and Arizona are no strangers to each other. The Ducks went to Tucson in early April and swept the Wildcats. Jacob Walsh earned Pac-12 Player of the Week after that series.
But these two teams are very different now than they were almost two months ago. Here are a few things to watch out for in tonight’s title match.
With how the offenses are exploding in this tournament, it’s not as far-fetched as it may seem to see a team score that high. Out of nine games in pool play, the teams scored in double digits eight times, and Arizona scored more than 10 points in each of the four games.
Ironically, despite their recent pitching struggles, the Ducks were involved in the only pitching duel of the tournament with their 3-2 victory over Cal in the opening game.
Considering the ballpark and conditions the tournament has, the Ducks pitching staff has held up pretty well. Scottsdale Stadium is the college baseball version of Coors Field. A large park with a great height and the ball will fly out. With the huge outfield, it also lends itself to many bloop singles, with runners easily moving from first to third.
Oregon’s pitching staff struggled the past few weeks, but has held its own in this tournament. The Ducks haven’t allowed many big innings that the offense can’t overcome. It’s a good sign for tonight and also for the NCAA Tournament.
Washington threatened to break through at the Duck bullpen with five runs in an inning, but reliever Grayson Grinsell put an end to that. The southpaw shut out the Huskies 3 2/3 innings to help Oregon defeat its northern rival.
However, the Arizona bullpen should be rested and ready to go. Starter Bradon Zastrow went a complete seven-inning game in the 14-4 victory over the Cardinal. The Wildcats should have an advantage on the hill when it comes to new weapons.
Before the tournament, Oregon third baseman Sabin Ceballos went 5-for-15 (.333) with two home runs and seven runs batted in. He has a knack for getting the big hits just when the Ducks need them. His home run in the 10th inning gave Oregon a 7–6 lead over Stanford and went on to win that game.
Then he almost single-handedly beat the Huskies with his bat with those six RBIs. Arizona will have to get someone other than Ceballos to beat them in the title game.
The Wildcats also have a lot of power behind them. Chase Davis has gone 6-for-14 with two home runs and 12 RBI. If Oregon wants to bring home its first Pac-12 tournament title, the Ducks will have to keep Davis off the bases.
The answer is different for the two teams.
For Oregon, a win would give the Ducks their first-ever Pac-12 title in baseball. While hosting a regional in the NCAA tournament probably isn’t in the cards, the case would be bolstered with four straight victories in Scottsdale. Wherever they end up, Oregon would be a 2 seed in its regional site.
For Arizona, a win or loss can mean making the NCAA tournament or not. The Wildcats are square on the bubble with an overall score of 33-23. Beating Stanford twice in the last two weeks and beating USC definitely helps. But that 12-18 conference record could be the pin that pops that bubble if they lose to the Ducks tonight.