EUGENE — Good memories returned for the University of Oregon when the Ducks saw that they would be heading to Nashville for an NCAA baseball regional.
“We’ve been to Vanderbilt, had some guys in Duck uniforms who competed there and had success there,” UO coach George Horton said after the bracket was unveiled Monday morning. “Our team is different and their team is different, but the road to Omaha (site if the College World Series) is never easy.”
The Ducks (42-18), seeded No. 2 in the region, will face No. 3 Clemson (36-23) to open the regional at 10 a.m. Friday.
Top-seeded Vanderbilt (41-18) faces Xavier (29-27) in the other game at Hawkins Field, where the Ducks swept three games from Vanderbilt in 2012 by a combined score of 18-10.
“It’s exciting because I know most of the guys have been to Vanderbilt, so we have an idea of what to expect,” said Oregon outfielder Kyle Garlick, recalling the series against the Commodores. “Obviously, when we went there two years ago they didn’t fill the stadium, but I expect them to have a lot of fans from the SEC (Southeastern Conference). It will be a different experience — playoff baseball, so you play new teams we have not played this year, but it will be fun.”
Garlick remembered the Hawkins Field stadium, where he was 2 for 9, being friendly to hitters.
“I would have loved to host at our stadium, but it is nice to go somewhere where the ball actually travels a little bit,” he said.
Second baseman Aaron Payne and catcher Shaun Chase also played for the Ducks two years ago at Vanderbilt, and Jake Reed and Tommy Thorpe pitched in that series.
“I’m pretty pumped,” right fielder Tyler Baumgartner said. “I remember watching that series before I was on the team. It looks like a cool place to play, a cool environment. I am excited to get the next phase of the season going.”
Oregon has hosted a regional in each of the past two seasons but now opens the postseason on the road for the first time since 2010.
“It is exciting going out to Vanderbilt,” third baseman Mitchell Tolman said. “Obviously, we’d love to host, but I am excited to go out there. It should be good competition. It is not going to be easy to get through it.”
Clemson was one of the last teams to receive an at-large bid, and Xavier won the Big East Conference tournament title. Vanderbilt, under coach Tim Corbin, is one of 10 SEC teams in the field.
“It is kind of refreshing, if you are not hosting, to get out of the West and not see the same teams you are familiar with,” Horton said. “It is not easy by any stretch. It is a deep field. Xavier won its tournament. One of the teams seeded lowest overall but with tradition is Clemson and that program making it to Omaha, and in recent history in the Corbin era, there’s Vanderbilt. It is a tough regional with those teams in it.”
The winner in Nashville will play in the super regional round against the winner of the Bloomington Regional hosted by Indiana, the No. 4 overall seed in the tournament. Stanford, Youngstown State and Indiana State are also in that regional.
“It is a little ironic, if Stanford gets through theirs and we get through ours, we’d play each other,” Horton said. “First things first. We’ll be happy to play anybody in the super regional.”
Horton said he would look at scouting reports on the other teams in Nashville before determining his pitching order.
Oregon is in the NCAA field for the fourth time since reinstating baseball in 2009. The Ducks lost in the regionals in 2010 and last season; they made it to the super regionals in 2012.
“It is nice to be invited to the dance,” Horton said. “Now, we have to dance.”