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Beavers No. 2 – but just one of three teams in Pac-10 baseball title race

by: OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY BRIAN STAMPS

With three weeks to play in the Pac-10's regular season, three teams own a legitimate shot at winning the conference championship - Oregon State (14-4), Arizona State (13-5) and UCLA (14-7).

The hay is far from being in the barn, but the path for the second-ranked Beavers (35-11 overall).

Oregon State visits Washington (4-14, 13-30) for three games this weekend, plays host to Southern Cal (8-10, 18-26) and finishes with a series at Oregon (5-13, 23-23).

Arizona State (34-11) and UCLA (27-16) end the regular season with a three-game showdown against each other at Tempe. The Sun Devils also play at USC and at Washington while UCLA must face California (12-9, 28-16) at home.

OSU coach Pat Casey is taking nothing for granted. His Beavers have won six straight Pac-10 series, and he is expecting a major challenge in each of the final three weekends of regular-season action.

'The Pac-10 is as good as at any time I can remember from top to bottom,' says Casey, in his 17th season at the OSU helm. 'Washington and USC will give us all we can handle. Oregon is a very talented team - extremely talented.

'We have to take it one series, one game, one inning at a time. We've done a good job with that all season, but the hardest part is yet to come.'

Casey will need key performances from such players as shortstop Ryan Dunn and center fielder Brian Stamps, who have emerged as stalwarts as the surprising Beavers - picked eighth by coaches in the conference preseason poll - have risen to the top of the Pac-10.

'Dunn came here as a pitcher, Stamps as a shortstop,' Casey says. 'It's odd the way things happen.'

Stamps, a junior transfer from Sacramento City College, had played a little center field in summer ball, 'usually just to go out there,' he says. His speed on the basepaths and while patrolling center have become a major weapon.

'It's been an adjustment, but I've kind of learned on the fly,' he says. 'I feel like if I can get a good first step, I can use my speed and get to a lot of balls.'

Stamps, recruited by USC, Mississippi and Central Florida, was coached at Sacramento CC by Andy McKay.

'He and Pat are really good friends and (McKay) put in a good word for me,' Stamps says. 'But I wanted to come here, anyway. It's a good program - there's some good history here. I was excited when I got the phone call (from Casey) and the opportunity.'

Pitching will continue to be integral to Oregon State's success the rest of the season. Starters Sam Gaviglio (9-1, 1.85 ERA, .191 opponents batting average), Josh Osich (6-2, 3.08, .206) and Ben Wetzler (6-2, 3.76, .243) are as good a trio as there is in the Pac-10. Sophomores Matt Boyd (1.07, four saves) and Tony Bryant (1.34, nine saves) have closed the door superbly on most foes.

Arizona State - 'the most talented team in the league,' Casey says - owns a No. 4 ranking on Boyd's Pseudo-RPI (Ratings Power Index) national list. Oregon State (11), Stanford (14) and Arizona (25) are other Pac-10 teams among the top 25. Actual RPI numbers are used in seeding for the NCAA tournament.

For now, though, the Beavers are honed in on an attempt to claim their first Pac-10 title since 2006.

'I hope our guys realize that what's at stake is the fun of being in a pennant race,' Casey said. 'That's what's fun - not the pressure, but that we're in it.

'You come to the yard the next time and you win, it gets bigger. We have a lot of young guys who have never been through it, so we have a responsibility with our coaching staff to handle that.'

PAC-10 BASEBALL

(records, remaining opponents)

OREGON STATE 14-4: at Washington, Southern Cal, at Oregon

ARIZONA STATE 13-5: at Southern Cal, at Washington, UCLA

UCLA 14-7: California, at Arizona State

CALIFORNIA 12-9: at UCLA, Stanford

ARIZONA 9-9: at Washington State, at Stanford, Washington

STANFORD 9-9: at Oregon, Arizona, at California

USC 8-10: Arizona State, at Oregon State, Washington State

OREGON 5-13: Stanford, at Washington State, Oregon State

WSU 5-13, Arizona, Oregon, at Southern Cal

WASHINGTON 4-14: Oregon State, Arizona State, at Arizona