Over the years Oregon hasn’t made a habit of parting ways with head coaches. While there was a bit of a bumpy transition that took place with football post Chip Kelly, that ship appears to have righted itself under the current regime.
So when George Horton – the architect of the Ducks’ reentry into intercollegiate baseball in 2008 – was let go after 10 seasons there was a sense the program was searching to find its bearings.
But playing to its historical strength of continuity and stability across the department, athletic director Rob Mullens found a “best-of-both-worlds” answer in bringing back Mark Wasikowski as head coach. The chief recruiter and assistant for Horton from 2012-16 before being named to lead the program at Purdue, Wasikowski will be quick to tell you the foundation Horton laid in resurrecting the program is solid and Horton had a strong influence in his coaching career.
Wasikowski intends to bring a clean slate to the roster he inherited – and in few cases had a hand in recruiting to Eugene – as the Ducks open fall camp.
One of the recruits that is still around is pitcher Kenyon Yovan. The redshirt junior lost all but two innings of last season to injury and after shoulder surgery is progressing well with his rehabilitation and is looking forward to taking on a leadership role for Wasikowski’s Ducks.
“It was life-changing,” Yovan said of missing the 2018 season. “It made me more humble … being a young kid, and you think you’re invincible and then something happens like that. I went three months not knowing exactly what was going on. They found (a ball of soft tissue) in my shoulder after an MRI and surgery took it out.
“Two months later, I was back throwing again and started doing other things. My arm is still trying to learn how to be an arm again after surgery. It was tough sitting on the bench knowing I couldn’t go out there to help the team. Hopefully, I can go out there for a full season and help the team get to the playoffs.”
Horton’s rosters were built around defense and pitching and that will be the formula for Wasikowski as well. “It starts there,” he said at his introductory press conference. “Pitching and defense are fundamental. But we have to score runs.”
Over the course of the 2018 the Ducks were outscored 382-321 and outhit .287 to .261, numbers that will both need to see marked improvement if Oregon is to improve up on their 27-29 record of a year ago.
Senior first baseman Gabe Matthews will be a key ingredient in revitalizing the Oregon batting order. The lefthander was third on the team in hitting with a .290 average and tied for the team lead in doubles (12) and home runs (6).
Wasikowski will also be looking for some offensive pop from a pair of sophomores; infielder Sam Novitske who was a bright spot at the plate for the Ducks last season, hitting .300 with 70 base hits and 21 RBI, and outfielder Tanner Smith (.284, 55, 35).
The Ducks will play four exhibition games during camp:
Sunday, October 6th vs. Sacramento State 1:00 pm
Saturday, October 12th vs. Alumni 2:30 pm
Thursday, October 17th vs. Okotok Dawgs (Western Canada Baseball League) 5:00 pm
Sunday, October 18th vs. Lane CC 5:00 pm.
All games will be played at PK Park and the public is invited.
~ Rick Morgan