BASEBALL PREVIEW: Ducks Face Lafayette College in Much-Anticipated Home Opener

By Charles Martindale

The last time Oregon baseball took the field at P.K. Park, it played to keep its College World Series hopes alive. While the Eugene Super Regional ended in heartbreak for the 2023 Ducks, they undeniably raised the bar for an Oregon baseball program that is still relatively young. With the calendar now turned to 2024, and with expectations high, the Ducks will once more compete in front of their home fans in Eugene, this time in a four-game set against the Lafayette College Leopards.

Oregon is coming off a 2-1 weekend at the Shriners Children’s College Showdown in Texas, where they were able to defeat Baylor and fellow 2023 regional team Oklahoma. Even in Sunday’s loss, the Ducks put up 28 baserunners against No. 18 ranked Texas Tech. It’s safe to say the invitational brought encouraging signs for head coach Mike Wasikowski’s squad, which still has a young, unheralded roster. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Lafayette College makes the trip to the Pacific Northwest still searching for its first win in 2024. The Leopards, who face Oregon for the first time in program history, were 10-15 in 2023.

The Ducks will send R.J. Gordon to the mound Friday night for the series opener. Despite redshirting with a shoulder injury in 2023, he’s impressed the Ducks’ coaching staff enough upon his return to make a second consecutive start in a series opener. Saturday will bring a long day of baseball at P.K., with Wasikowski sending sophomore Grayson Grinsell and freshman left-hander Toby Twist to the mound for starts in the doubleheader. Grinsell posted a 4.47 ERA with over 12 strikeouts per 9 IP in 30 games as a freshman and will be making his fourth career start. Twist debuted with 3.2 solid innings in Arlington vs. Texas Tech on Sunday. In this weekend’s Sunday game, it will be Kevin Seitter making start number two in his first year as a Duck. The righty threw four innings, allowing three earned runs while striking out a pair last Saturday. It’s worth noting that early in the season, with a pitching staff loaded with underclassmen, the Oregon coaching staff will likely experiment with other roles and matchups from arms out of the bullpen, a strategy that brought success in its two wins so far this season. The by-committee approach may be short-lived in 2024, but for now, expect to see Wasikowski making the walk to the mound regularly as he forms his first impressions in-game of the Ducks’ pitching.

For Lafayette, pitching roles are also in flux, but for different reasons. The Leopard’s smallest margin of defeat a week ago was 10 runs, and they arrive with a -42 run differential after a rough series vs. East Tennessee State. Mike Romanao threw 4.2 innings last weekend, allowing five earned runs, and Tristan Helmick threw a solid 3.2 innings with an earned run and a trio of strikeouts. No other pitcher for A.J. Miller’s team made it past two innings.

Offensively, the Ducks have an opportunity to put up some big numbers against a rotation that has been shaky, at best, so far. Down in Texas, transfer Jeffrey Heard was all over the stat sheet with six hits and nine total bases. Sophomore infielder Carter Garate also turned heads last weekend, going 6-9 with a pair of doubles and walks. After hitting .365 as a true freshman, Drew Smith is expected to do lots of heavy lifting for the Ducks lineup, and he’s driven in four runs in three games to begin 2024. Two-sport star Bryce Boettcher put his speed on display in his two starts in Arlington, and Jared Walsh, whom the Ducks will lean on for the long ball, needs just ten home runs in 2024 to set the new Oregon career mark.

Lafayette College scored 12 runs in their first series of the year, with Ben Petrone and Easton Brenner leading the team in hits with three each. The two teams are set to play 36 innings of baseball across three days this weekend, so an Oregon fan base who waited all summer and winter for the upstart Ducks to return will have plenty of baseball to take in.

Lafayette Leopards at Oregon Ducks: 2/23-2/25

Game One: Friday (4:05 p.m.)

Game Two: Saturday (12:05 p.m.) 

Game Three: Saturday (TBD)

Game Four: Sunday (12:05 p.m.)

Writer Pick: Ducks Sweep