Gonzaga baseball (33-17) are heading to Eugene, Oregon as a No. 2 in the University of Oregon regional. They’ll face off against Louisiana State University (34-22) on Friday at 7 p.m. PST on ESPN 3, with regional No. 1 seed Oregon (37-14) taking on Northeast Conference champions Central Connecticut State University at 2 p.m. that day to get the double-elimination weekend started.
GU qualified for an automatic bid to the tournament with a 10-0 win over University of San Diego last Thursday, which cemented the Zags as West Coast Conference champions with a 20-7 conference record. It was GU’s first WCC championship since 2018 when the team went on to the Minnesota regional as a regional No. 3 seed before losing twice to UCLA, and the No. 2 seed this season is the highest the Zags have earned at regionals going back to 1976.
The Zags were even considered a favorite to host their first ever regional series after being placed on a short list of 20 potential schools that could host one, but Spokane missed the final cut announced last Sunday. Seven of the 16 regional sites went to Southeastern Conference schools and three went to PAC-12 schools, including Oregon as the 14th ranked team in the nation.
“We want to prove that this team from Spokane can play with anyone in the country and we’re a threat to anybody,” GU’s senior pitcher Alek Jacob said to KREM2. “We deserve that regional spot [and] it’s something that we can prove.”
The Zags were scheduled to play one home game and two away games against the Ducks in the regular season, but COVID-19 protocols shortened it to a single matchup in Eugene that the Ducks took 10-3. That and how after dropping last Thursday’s contest, USD stormed back in convincing fashion to take the series from GU — dropping the Zags’ rating percentage index to 27 — were contributors to why the Zags were left out as regional hosts.
UO finished with a 20-10 record in the PAC-12 this season, second only behind national No. 5 seed Arizona. The Ducks’ pitching staff has been a key to their strong season performance, with junior Robert Ahlstrom leading the rotation with a 2.41 ERA.
“I think it’ll be cool to go to Oregon and possibly gain some revenge on them,” GU’s senior third baseman Brett Harris said to the Spokesman Review. “We have some unfinished business down there in Eugene.”
That unfinished business will have to wait until potentially Saturday or Sunday, as the Zags have the LSU Tigers in their way first if the team hopes to punch their ticket to a super regional. LSU finished fourth in the SEC West with a below .500 record in-conference, but the Tigers’ resume under head coach Paul Mainieri precedes itself.
Manieri announced that he’s retiring at the end of this season, but he’s the winningest active coach in Division I and helped the Tigers win a national championship in 2009, while finishing as national runners-up in 2017.
“They’re obviously a very good program,” GU Head Coach Mark Machtolf said to KREM2. “We’re just excited about learning more about them and giving them our best potential.”
CCSU — the region’s No. 4 seed who GU also has a chance of seeing later in the weekend — comes in riding the high of beating the Bryant Bulldogs twice last weekend to secure their automatic tournament bid. A collection of efficient pitching and strong defense has been the formula for the Blue Devils successes up to this point, both attributes that will need to be optimized if CCSU hopes to get past Oregon on Friday.
In total, at least six and potentially seven games will be taking place in Eugene this weekend. Whichever program makes it out of the gauntlet there will be up against the last team standing between University of Tennessee, Duke, Liberty and Wright State in the super regionals the following weekend.