Lost weekend for Beavers as Ducks lower boom
OSU to host Regional; Oregon hopes sweep means invitation
EUGENE - On Tuesday, after Oregon's season series-clinching 7-2 win at the University of Portland, UO coach George Horton told me, 'If we're fortunate to win the series with Oregon State, at least in 2011 we can say were the best team in the state of Oregon.'
Well, maybe the Ducks can.
They certainly looked the part this weekend at PK Park, where they unbuckled Oregon State - and perhaps served notice to the NCAA Tournament selection committee - with some inspired play against their arch-rivals.
Oregon completed a three-game sweep of OSU with a 6-0 victory Sunday, which Horton hopes keeps alive the postseason hopes. The Ducks finished the regular season 32-16-1 overall and were eighth in the Pac-10 with an 11-16 mark. But they won eight of their last 10 games, including the broom job on the Beavers - their first sweep of a conference opponent since 1980.
The 64-team NCAA Tournament field will be announced at 9:30 a.m. Monday.
'All we could control was trying to do well this weekend,' Horton said. 'I'm real proud of our guys' effort. There are no information leaks or anything we did that makes me feel any better than what we said before.'
Oregon State is in. The Beavers (38-17, 17-10) will play host to a four-team Regional beginning Friday at Goss Stadium. Pac-10 champion UCLA and Arizona State will also host Regionals.
'Three Pac-10 teams were awarded host sites; that speaks well for the committee's belief we have a very strong conference,' Horton said. Oregon's strong play down the stretch 'would be the criteria (we) would have to hang our hat on. I think we're a worthy team ... in my heart of hearts, I think we're one of the 64 best teams in the country.
'We've earned the right to play in the NCAA Tournament. I think we (would) make the committee proud. I hope the wins on Friday and Saturday put us on the board, and that they were watching our score today, and this might have gotten us in. I'd still (make) an educated guess that we have about a 40 percent chance.'
Oregon State, meanwhile, will stumble into the national tourney having lost five in a row. The Beavers entered the weekend needing to win two of three to clinch at least a share of the conference crown. And the way things worked out, they could have tied UCLA (18-9) by beating the Ducks Sunday.
It didn't happen, and quiet bats were the biggest reason. Oregon State managed 13 hits and only two runs in the three games. On Sunday, Oregon's Alex Keudell allowed only two hits over 8 2/3 innings; OSU never advanced a runner beyond second base. The Beavers also committed five errors in the series while the Ducks fielded flawlessly.
'We lost focus, lost that edge,' said catcher Andrew Susac, OSU's No. 3 batter, who had only one hit in the series. 'We put a little too much pressure on ourselves this weekend. We were pressing instead of just playing the game. That's how it goes sometimes in baseball. It's a humbling game. (The Ducks) played a great series, pitched very well, hit the ball well.
'But ... we're a team that fights back when we're down. We're excited about hosting. We'll find a way to get it done. We have a whole week to recover and get our minds right for next weekend.'
After Saturday's loss, Oregon State coach Pat Casey declined to speak with the media. After Sunday's defeat, Casey again didn't leave the dugout to talk to reporters.
I caught up with him, though, and asked if I could offer a few questions.
What happened in the series?
'We just got beat - got beat in every aspect of the game,' he said. 'There's nothing else to say. We didn't play the game of baseball at all.'
Did the Beavers compete?
'No,' he said, 'we didn't compete at all. (The OSU players) ought to be fresh next weekend, since they didn't play this weekend.'
Were they feeling pressure with the opportunity to win a conference title?
'I don't have any idea,' he said. 'If I knew, I'd have done a better job.'
Can he remember this kind of thing happening to his team before?
'Happens all the time,' Casey said. 'We got swept by Arizona State at home in 2007.'
That was in the penultimate series of the '07 regular season. Oregon State came back to take two of three from UCLA in the final series of the regular season. Then the Beavers rolled through the postseason, winning 11 of 12, including the final 10 in a row, en route to the national championship.
I'm disappointed Casey chose to avoid the media after the last two games. Coaches need to make themselves available, win or lose. Casey is too classy to allow his emotions to get the best of him like that.
The veteran OSU coach is also one the most fierce competitors I've encountered in 35 years in this business. Invariably, it rubs off on his players in a positive way. Could it have been a negative to his players on this very important weekend against the Ducks?
'No,' Susac said emphatically. 'He's the same way when we're up 13-1. He's a competitor, man. That's how he goes about things. He makes us want it more, too. We all feed off of his energy.'
Now the Beavers will need to gather themselves and get back to the team that was ranked second in the country and won their first seven Pac-10 series. They'll be playing at home, and their outstanding pitching staff could carry them if the bats can wake up just a little bit.
The Ducks, meanwhile, can only hope their late surge will gain them an invitation to play some more baseball.
'It'd be a shame if our season ended, because we're starting to figure it out,' Horton said. 'If it does end, this was a great way to go out - against a very good and well-coached Beaver team. That's what we'll build on for next year if we don't get to keep playing.'