Horton vows to get Ducks to the big time
Four years after he arrived, coach wants 'an edge' from fans
EUGENE - The Oregon Ducks' baseball season could not have ended in more heartbreaking fashion -- a pop fly lost in the sun, and game three of the NCAA super regionals lost 3-2 at home Monday to Kent State.
The disappointment was almost unbearable for the Ducks.
But the optimism for the future was almost overwhelming.
"I can promise everybody that we're going to the College World Series," Oregon coach George Horton said.
Not this year, of course, but in the future, maybe even in 2013.
Horton, whose Ducks finished 46-19 in 2012 and placed third in the Pac-12, coached Cal State Fullerton to a national championship in 2004.
"I'll be back there with a Duck baseball team," he said. "Or it's going to kill me."
Horton, who has been at the UO helm for four seasons, said that this year's success began with players who were good people.
"There's national champions on the field, there's national champions as far as the makeup, and in the game of life," he said. "We've got two of three."
The second piece of the puzzle he referred to concerned his players' work ethic. Horton said that during the year, only one player was late, and that was just once, to the Ducks' 6:20 a.m. weightlifting sessions.
"That's commitment, that's responsibility, that's accountability," he said. "In the top 16 (NCAA teams), we probably lose the drafted player race. But I wouldn't trade my guys for anybody in the country."
The talent level and personality of the Ducks fit well with the limitations that Oregon faced playing in PK Park. The Ducks had to rely on pitching, defense and small ball.
"We're always going to be a pitching and defense team and an execution team," Horton said. "This is a man's park. It's a big park. It rains a lot. There are no bad hops. It's really slow. The ball doesn't carry. You've got to really earn your hits here."
Next season, the Ducks' batting order will lose senior starting catcher Brett Hambright, who led Oregon in hitting (.317). Sophomore infielder Ryon Healy (.312) and sophomore outfielder Aaron Jones (.303) are among those slated to return.
On the mound, Oregon graduates Pac-12 pitcher of the year and former Jesuit High star Alex Keudell (11-5, .238). The Ducks will bring back freshman starter Jake Reed (8-4, .292), sophomore starter Jeff Gold (8-4, 3.66) and sophomore closer Jimmie Sherfy (5-3, 2.20, 19 saves).
One thing that Horton would like to see next season is a more sophisticated fan base than he observed from the average of 2,128 people who attended Oregon's home games in 2012.
"Right now, they're not educated," he said. "It's a minor-league baseball kind of crowd. We need a little bit of edge. We need that support and that energy that we felt here (during the super regional) when we play our regular-season games."
The super-regional crowd, which was more to Horton's liking, got a treat with three consecutive one-run ballgames. The Ducks were on the wrong side of two of those, but Horton said he believes that coming so close to making the College World Series will serve as motivation for Oregon in the future.
"They'll look at this adversity and get up off the deck," he said. "The real glory when you get knocked to your knees is when you get up and you do something about it."