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Buck earns respect with gritty game

Admitting for the first time his elbow hurts, OSU righty hung tough

OMAHA, Neb. - Dallas Buck never won a pitching start at the College World Series, a fact that probably will gnaw at him until his dying day.

But the junior right-hander from Newberg has the respect of everyone within the Oregon State program for giving his all in the final start of his college career.

Buck gave up nine hits and three runs and left after 6 1/3 innings in Saturday's championship series 4-3 loss to North Carolina with the game tied at 3-3. After a poor performance in the Beavers' CWS-opening loss to Miami a week earlier, Buck pitched his heart out against the Tar Heels - which impressed everyone but Buck.

'Whether it's 11-1 or 4-3, we still lost the game,' he said. 'I pitched better than I did the first night, but it still wasn't good enough.'

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Buck, dealing with elbow issues all season, has been short on the velocity that carried him to first-team All-America status as a sophomore. Against North Carolina, he showed his savvy by inducing ground out after ground out. Of the Tar Heels' 19 outs with Buck on the mound, four were on strikeouts and 15 on ground balls. Not one flyout the entire way.

'I dropped my arm angle down a little bit,' he said. 'I was trying to get all the movement I could out of it, mix it up a little bit.'

'Dallas was outstanding,' said Dan Spencer, OSU's pitching coach. 'He didn't get what he deserved as far as the score. The few balls (North Carolina) hit hard off him, that should have been a shutout or a one-run performance. It was really impressive against a good offensive team, especially where Dallas is at physically.'

Buck has said all season he hasn't experienced pain while pitching, and the numbers - a 12-3 record with a 3.47 ERA going against some of the best teams in the country - reflect as much.

On Sunday, Buck admitted in an interview with the Portland Tribune that he had fibbed.

'(The elbow) feels terrible,' he said.

Painful?

'A little,' he said.

Then he backed away.

'There isn't any pain,' he said.

'This is the first day he admitted it to me, too,' Spencer said. 'All year long, I've forced him to throw during the middle of the week, just to make sure he wasn't hurt. I assumed he was fine. He was getting people out. The velo was down a couple of clicks, but it wasn't like it was affecting his change or his slider or his movement.'

Out of necessity, Buck has matured from a raw thrower to a pitcher this season.

'The changeup developed, the slider got tighter, and he learned to pitch in and out with his fastball to induce contact early in the count,' Spencer said. 'Dallas is the type of kid who wears his emotions on his sleeve. To have the frustration of pitching against Friday night guys without that big bullet, with his 90-mph sinker going 87 … he competed his tail off.

'He told me before Saturday's game, 'I need to put one more big name in the hat.' In other words, he wanted to bury one more Friday night guy we faced. Unfortunately, we didn't quite get it done for him.'

All season, Buck went up against the opponents' ace - including Washington's Tim Lincecum, Stanford's Craig Reynolds, Southern Cal's Ian Kennedy - and only once lost the Friday night opener of a series.

'The thing I'll remember about Dallas is his competitiveness,' Spencer said. 'Showing up every week, never backing down from any Friday night starter in the (Pac-10).'

When Buck ceded the ball to teammate Jonah Nickerson for last Thursday's crucial encounter with Rice, some took it as a sign that Buck was reluctant to pitch. Not so.

'Everybody knows I want to pitch, but I'd rather win,' Buck said with a shrug. 'If someone else has better stuff at that time, he should pitch.'

'Dallas could have pitched, and he might have thrown a gem,' Spencer said. 'But as hot as Nickerson was, Dallas saw that. His issue has never been heart. There is no measuring the toughness and competitiveness he brought to our club.'

Buck, selected by Arizona in the third round of the recent major-league draft, soon will take a physical exam to determine the nature of his elbow problem. An April MRI revealed no structural damage, just stretched ligaments. But Spencer is guessing there is about 'a 75 percent chance' Buck will undergo surgery.

'Even if he were not to have surgery, he won't pitch again this summer,' Spencer said. '(The Diamondbacks) will shut him down for a while.'

Ed Gustafson, Arizona's Northwest scout, 'thinks Dallas will be in the big leagues in the fall of 2008,' Spencer said. 'If he comes back like he was (before the elbow problems), the Diamondbacks think they have a third starter in the big leagues. If the velo stays the same as it is now, he'll be a good situational right-hander.'

Buck, 24-4 the last two seasons, departs as one of the greats in the program's 97-year history.

'Obviously, I'm not disappointed in my career at Oregon State,' he said. 'I pitched a lot of wins. This year was frustrating from a personal standpoint, but it's been fun.

'It feels good to know what we've done to help the program become one of the best in the country. I just wish I'd been able to get a couple of more wins at the end.'

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