Civil War or just another Pac-10 baseball series?
Coaches say rivalry concerns aren't big in conference finale
Surely, this weekend's Civil War baseball series means a great deal to the teams' partisans because of the schools' intrastate rivalry. Ditto for many of the players.
The coaches are swearing on a stack of Bibles, however, that it's pretty much all about baseball.
'I want to win, but not because it's the Beavers against the Ducks,' Oregon State coach Pat Casey says. 'In football, I can understand it. I don't want to take anything away from (the rivalry), but baseball is so much different.
'The Pac-10 schedule is a marathon grind. We play nine three-game series, and we've won seven of them so far. We try to prepare for everybody the same. Whatever is next on the schedule is the most important series of the year.'
Oregon coach George Horton draws comparison to his former job as coach at Cal State Fullerton. The Titans' chief rival was Long Beach State.
'The fans got into it and hated each other,' Horton says. 'One of my best friends in the industry was their coach, Dave Snow. We shook hands before and after the game and went toe to toe during the game.
'It's like that for me with Coach Casey. There are no shenanigans. The Beavers play hard, play fair and square. (The rivalry) is good for the state of Oregon, but it doesn't go beyond that for me. I don't feel any different about them than I do about Arizona State or UCLA.'
The rivals go into the regular season's final three-game series in decidedly different situations - and surprisingly so if you figure in where they started.
Oregon State (38-14 overall, 17-7 in Pac-10 action) is ranked sixth nationally and owns a one-game lead over Arizona State and UCLA in the race for the conference title. The Beavers - picked for eighth place in the Pac-10 preseason coaches poll - can wrap up their first league crown since 2006 by taking two of three at PK Park.
Oregon, meanwhile, was picked fourth in the conference preseason poll and was a top-20 team to start the season. It's been a rough go for the Ducks (30-26-1 overall, 8-16 in Pac-10 play), who are probably out of the picture to make the NCAA tournament.
'I wish we were in better position,' Horton says. 'We've struggled most of the year and lost six one-run games in conference. I don't know if we have a snowball's chance (for an NCAA tourney berth), even if we're fortunate enough to sweep the Beavers.
'All we can do is look forward to playing a really good team in an exciting environment for the state of Oregon. If we're lucky enough to sweep them, maybe we can beg and pray to get in.'
Oregon is tied with Washington for eighth place in the Pac-10. Horton - the Pac-10 rep to the five-member advisory board that reports to the NCAA tournament selection committee - says he could have made a better case had the Ducks not lost two of three at Washington State last weekend.
'We had our last call (Monday),' Horton says. 'Like I told my team, if we had swept or gotten two out of three against Washington State, I could be on that call saying, 'Hey, keep an eye on us. We're getting most of our offense back and healthy. We're a team that could make a splash in the playoffs.'
'But we lost two out of three, and I told my guys I can't sell 8-16 in conference. That's the most glaring, difficult thing. Had we been able to get two of three from Washington State and sweep the Beavers, with everything else that might happen, we could have found our way into fifth or sixth place.'
Oregon State seems certain of playing host to a first-round, four-team regional. Should the Beavers gain a top-eight national seed, they could be in position to have a super regional in Corvallis, as well.
Dennis Farrell, longtime commissioner of the Big West Conference, is the only West Coast representative on the 10-member NCAA selection committee. (Farrell says OSU assistant athletic director Todd Stansbury will join him on the committee for a four-year term beginning next year).
Farrell says he expects the Beavers to be a first-round host.
'They deserve it,' Farrell says. 'There are four teams in the West deserving of (first-round) hosting opportunities - Oregon State, Arizona State, Texas Christian and Fullerton, in that order. That's my thinking.'
Farrell says OSU, ASU, Stanford, UCLA, California and Arizona 'are the Pac-10 teams that merit consideration for inclusion into the (NCAA) tournament.'
Casey is in full agreement.
'There's no doubt that six Pac-10 teams should get in,' the OSU coach says. 'There's also no doubt that the winner of the conference should be a national seed, no matter who that is.
'I talked to (former ASU coach) Pat Murphy today, and he said, 'Can you imagine winning the Pac-10 and not being a national seed?' '
When the selection committee meets Sunday, it will lean on the Rating Performance Index (RPI), which places heavy value on strength of schedule. The top Pac-10 team is Arizona State at eighth, followed by Stanford (22nd) and Oregon State (25th). Oregon stands at No. 74.
OSU, which was 12th in the RPI two weeks ago, is hurt by the fact that its final three opponents - Washington, Southern Cal and Oregon - have low RPIs.
The Beavers' current RPI 'is ludicrous,' Casey says. 'We swept both Arizona State and Stanford, we're ahead of them in the conference, our overall records are similar, and they're ahead of us.'
Casey says Northwest teams are at a disadvantage because of a lack of proximity to strong programs to play non-conference games.
'Stanford does a home-and-home (series) with Texas, and (the Cardinal) can get swept and see their RPI go up,' the OSU coach says. 'We've tried to schedule a home-and-home with Texas, but (the Longhorns) don't want to come up to the Northwest - and they don't have to.
'UCLA can play Fullerton, Irvine and Pepperdine on Tuesdays. We can't do that. It's an unfair situation. There's only one coach (Minnesota's John Anderson) on the selection committee. The rest are administrators, and they go by the RPIs.'
All Oregon State can do is try to win the Oregon series and hope for the best. Casey understands that will be a difficult proposition.
'That's a very talented, good team, especially defensively and on the mound,' he says. 'We'll approach this series exactly the way we approached playing Arizona nine weeks ago. Go out and play the game one pitch at a time. Play with attitude. That's going to be our approach every day.'
Horton - who won an NCAA championship at Fullerton in 2004 - was asked if he feels the Ducks are in a spoiler role this weekend.
'It's a unique thing for me, in my history of coaching - an opportunity to spoil,' he says 'The Beavers might have spoiled our opportunity to host a regional last year, though they were fighting for their own lives. It wasn't a case of just spoiling our party. They were fighting to get in, and did so - finished very strong.
'I've never coached a game where I want to win because it ruins somebody else's day. It's always been about my team. We've always been in a position to do something more than just spoil somebody's season.
'And I don't have that feeling about the Beavers, quite frankly. I respect them. The job Coach Casey, his staff and their athletes have done is phenomenal. It's about trying to beat a very good team, a team that is trying to win a conference championship. We're just trying to win games. It's not like we're trying to beat the Beavers so they can't have it.'
Horton adds that the only extra incentive to beat Oregon State might be in recruiting. Since the reinstatement of the Oregon program in 2009, OSU has owned the series, winning 10 of 13. The teams have split a pair of non-league games this season.
'I'm not sure it makes much difference,' Casey says. 'I don't think (recruits) will look at one series and say they want to go to a school because it won the series. We have geared our recruiting more to the Northwest than (the Ducks) have. That's a difference. But all Pac-10 series are equally important, whether it's against Arizona State or USC or Oregon.'
Oregon won three of five in its other in-state series against the University of Portland.
'If we're fortunate to win the series with Oregon State, at least in 2011 we were the best team in the state of Oregon,' Horton says. 'That's all it means to me.'
Casey says he hasn't heard his players talk about the potential to claim the Pac-10 championship by winning two of three this weekend.
'But they'd be naive to not know the situation,' he says. 'A championship would be wonderful. It's what we're shooting for. But we'll have to play extremely well to get it done - we know that.'