Stanford presents next major challenge this weekend

CORVALLIS - After Oregon State's astonishing sweep of Arizona State last weekend - the Sun Devils' first three-game takedown since 1999 - the Beavers moved into the nation's top 10 in two of the four major polls.

OSU (24-7 overall, 5-1 in Pac-10 play16) was ranked ninth by Baseball America and 10th by Collegiate Baseball. The Beavers, though, were only 15th and 17th, respectively, in the USA Today and National Collegiate Baseball Writers of Americas polls - behind Arizona State (10th and ninth).

And in Boyd's World pseudo-RPI rankings - which relies heavily on strength of schedule - Arizona State (22-9) is fifth and Oregon State 19th (Oregon, incidentally, is 107th).

While that may not be justice for the current Pac-10 leader, OSU coach Pat Casey won't spend any time worrying about it.

'Arizona State is kind of like Duke in basketball,' says Casey, the ringleader behind Oregon State's back-to-back national championships in 2006 and '07. 'You're going to have all the love you can get.'

Oregon State was picked to finish eighth in the Pac-10 in the coaches' preseason poll. No national preseason poll had OSU in its top 40.

'We don't need to be acknowledged by anybody,' Casey says. 'It's really to our advantage. We're young, and our guys have used their inexperience as a battle cry.'

Injuries to starters Andrew Susac - who ranks first in the Pac-10 in slugging percentage (.614), second in on-base percentage (.496) and fourth in batting average (.364) - Jake Rodriguez and Garrett Nash have crippled Oregon State, but the Beavers have not buckled.

'We're supposed to be too young, we get slugged with some injuries, but our guys have handled everything extremely well so far,' Casey says. 'The attitude on this club is tremendous. We're well aware of the challenge that lies ahead, but we've gotten out of the chute fast.'

The immediate challenge is a three-game series at Stanford beginning Friday. The Cardinal (16-9, 3-3) are ranked among the nation's top 25 in all four polls and have the league's No. 3 hitter in sophomore third baseman Kenny Diekroeger (.373).

'Stanford started the season in everybody's top five,' Casey says. 'They really have a good club, and their diamond is a tough place to play.'

As usual, Oregon State's pitching has taken a lead role in the team's success. The team ERA is a sterling 2.88, led by junior starter Sam Gaviglio (6-1, 1.34 ERA, .175 opponents' batting average, 37 hits, 10 walks and 60 Ks in 60 1/3 innings) and relievers Matt Boyd (1.17, .195 opponents' batting average with three saves in 14 games) and Tony Bryant, (2-1, 1.72, .229 opponents' batting average with three saves in 13 games).

Gaviglio ranks second in the Pac-10 in ERA and fourth in opponents' batting average.

The other starters have been solid - Josh Osich, (4-0, 3.71, .232 opponents' batting average, 15 walks and 31 strikeouts in 34 innings); James Nygren (5-1, 3.68, six walks and 27 strikeouts in 36 2/3 innings) and Ben Wetzler (4-1, 4.37 in 35 innings).

The only negative with the pitching staff has been junior righthander Taylor Starr, attempting a comeback after two years away following a pair of Tommy John surgeries. Starr went to the mound in what was to be a relief role Sunday against Arizona State. After throwing three pitches to warm up, he felt something pop in his arm and came out before throwing a counting pitch. Casey isn't sure of his availability for the Stanford series.

Oregon State has had some solid hitting, led by Susac, Rodriguez, freshman second baseman Kavin Keyes (.338, .400 OBP), third baseman Carter Bell (.306), outfielders Michael Miller (.296) and Ryan Barnes (.292), first baseman Danny Hayes (.294, 20 runs and 25 RBIs), middle infielder Ryan Dunn (.292) and first baseman-outfielder Jared Norris (.282).

The Beavers head for Stanford with the goal of winning another series.

'Winning on the road in the Pac-10 is miserably hard, and even more difficult when you're playing with so many young men with such little experience in conference play,' Casey says. 'I wish everybody were healthy, but it's the way it is. Our guys have battled hard so far. We just need to keep getting better.'

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