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On paper, Beavers run ends at loaded Vandy

Oregon State must play well to earn return trip to College World Series
by: COURTESY OF VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY Third-ranked Vanderbilt’s loaded pitching staff includes Sonny Gray, the 18th pick in this week’s major league draft. The Commodores face Oregon State this weekend in the NCAA super regionals.

If Oregon State is to advance to its first College World Series since winning the second of back-to-back championships in 2007, it must pass a formidable final hurdle.

The Beavers (41-17) will be decided underdogs when they take the field Friday night to face third-ranked Vanderbilt in the opener of their three-game series in the super regionals.

The Commodores (50-10), the NCAA tournament's No. 6 seed, had little trouble with their competition in last weekend's regional at Nashville, outscoring Belmont (twice) and Troy by a 26-3 count.

Vanderbilt's starting rotation includes:

• Junior right-hander Sonny Gray (11-3, 2.01), the 18th pick by Oakland in Monday's major league draft.

• Junior left-hander Grayson Garvin (13-1, 2.37), the Southeastern Conference pitcher of the year and the school single-season record-holder for wins. Garvin went in the second round of the draft to Tampa Bay.

• Senior right-hander Taylor Hill (5-1, 2.84), who struck out 13 and held Belmont to five hits over eight innings in the regional.

Vanderbilt's closer is junior right-hander Navery Moore (4-2, 1.21, 11 saves). Six other relievers own ERAs under 3.00. The Commodores' team ERA is 2.41, and opponents hit .217 against them this season.

'Their pitching is as good as anybody's in the country,' Oregon State coach Pat Casey says. 'Pretty impressive. They have three Friday night starters and unbelievable depth in their bullpen.'

Third baseman Jason Esposito, a 6-2, 205-pound junior, was the regional MVP, hitting .538 with three runs and four RBIs. For the season, Esposito is batting .362 with eight homers and 55 RBIs.

Aaron Westlake, a 6-4, 230-pound junior first baseman, hit .349 with 14 homers and 48 RBIs.

Eight of the nine starting position players (including designated hitter) are over .300, including outfielder Mike Yastrzemski, grandson of Hall-of-Famer Carl Yastrzemski. As a team, the Commodores own a .319 average.

'They're loaded,' Casey says. 'That's why they're a national seed.'

A year ago, Vanderbilt went 46-20, losing to Florida State in the super regionals.

'They're a veteran club, with a nucleus that has been together for a long time,' Casey says. 'If we play on paper, we lose.'

Fortunately for the Beavers, Vanderbilt has to win two of three games on the field to advance, same as the orange-and-black-clad visitors.

Oregon State's pitching, the team strength all season, will have to match up with the Commodores if an upset is in the making.

Junior right-hander Sam Gaviglio (12-2, 1.87), the MVP of the Corvallis regional, will work either Friday or Saturday. Gaviglio threw last Saturday's victory over Creighton, allowing just five hits in a complete-game effort.

'We're going to do whatever Sammy wants to do,' Casey says. 'If he feels strong and ready to go, he'll throw on Friday. If he wants the entire day's rest, he'll go Saturday.'

The rest of the Beavers' pitching situation is unsettled.

Junior left-hander Josh Osich, who lasted only an inning in Sunday's clinching win over Georgia, is experiencing soreness in his shoulder and may not be available.

'Josh possibly has some tendinitis in there, but the doctor said there is nothing structurally wrong,' Casey says. 'It's questionable (whether he'll be able to pitch this weekend). We're not going to throw him if he's not feeling right.'

If Osich can't pitch, Casey must choose between senior right-hander James Nygren (8-3, 3.47), freshman left-hander Ben Wetzler (6-3, 4.66) or perhaps freshman right-hander Adam Duke (1-0, 5.79). The latter, who didn't pitch until the final weeks of the season due to shoulder problems, looked sharp in relief Sunday. gaining the victory.

'Maybe it's Duke,' Casey says. 'His stuff was electric, and his breaking ball was good (against the Bulldogs). But it would be hard to go with somebody who hasn't started all year.'

Sophomore closer Tony Bryant (3-2, 1.52, 12 saves), who took a line drive off his shoulder before finishing Sunday's clincher, will be able to go this weekend. The OSU coach admires the toughness displayed by the 6-7, 210-pound right-hander in staying in the game.

'That was fabulous,' Casey says. 'It scared him a little bit. Scared me, too. But Tony is fine. He'll be ready.'

The Beavers regained their form after a lackluster end to the regular season in which they lost five in a row and managed two runs and 13 hits in their three-game series at Oregon. In the regional, they totaled 18 runs on 34 hits in the three games.

They'll have to be smarter on the base paths, though, to beat Vanderbilt. Against Georgia, they were thrown out three times on the bases, with Brian Stamps getting picked off second, Kavin Keyes thrown out trying to stretch a double to a triple and Jake Rodriguez running Carter Bell off second base for a put-out at third.

'Incredible,' Casey says. 'Young guys make mistakes, but those are mental things you have to control.'

Oregon State is accustomed to its underdog role. The Beavers were picked by Pac-10 coaches for an eighth-place conference finish. Now they're one step away from a date with the College World Series.

'It's been awesome proving all those people wrong and showing the Beavers can play,' first baseman Parker Berberet says.

Casey can only hope his Beavers play their best this weekend.

'This is a great opportunity for us,' he says. 'We're prepared for Vanderbilt to be very good. We'll go in there and play the games and see what we can do.'