Beavers, Ducks get ready for NCAA baseball regionals
Asked to critique the race for the College World Series championship during ESPN's NCAA tournament selection show on Monday, ESPN's Ben McDonald -- a former Louisiana State pitcher who went on to an eight-year major-league career -- saw it this way:
"North Carolina, Vanderbilt and LSU have separated themselves from the rest of the field."
McDonald's less-than-impartial observation is not quite the way the selection committee saw it during its meeting to discuss seeding for the upcoming tournament.
North Carolina and Vanderbilt were seeded Nos. 1 and 2 and LSU No. 4. Seeded third is Oregon State, which will host one of 16 four-team, double-elimination regional tournaments this weekend at Corvallis.
Oregon drew the eighth and final national seed and will host a regional, too. If the Beavers and Ducks survive their regionals, they would each be in line to play host to a best-of-three super regional the following weekend.
Oregon State (45-10) will entertain Texas-San Antonio (35-23) in a 5 p.m. Friday opener at Goss Stadium.
Oregon (45-14) squares off with South Dakota State (35-22) in a 6 p.m. Friday lid-lifter at PK Park.
It's by far Oregon State's highest seed in history. The only other time OSU has been seeded was in 2005, when the Beavers were eighth. The Beavers were unseeded when they won back-to-back national championships in 2006 and '07.
This season, the Beavers won their first Pac-12 title since 2006, posting a 24-6 record, the first team to finish with a winning percentage of .800 since 1999. They are ranked between Nos. 3 and 5 in the polls and hold an RPI rating of No. 5.
OSU coach Pat Casey predicted a No. 3 or 4 seed after the Beavers' 7-6 victory over Washington State to wrap up the regular season on Sunday.
"We're excited," Casey said. "We've been consistently ranked among the top five or six in the country with an RPI in the top five, with a solid strength of schedule. We felt we should have a good national seed, and we were rewarded."
The Corvallis regional includes No. 2 seed Texas A&M (32-27) and No. 3 seed Cal Santa Barbara (34-23), the latter coached by former Oregon State pitcher and ex-Oregon pitching coach Andrew Checketts.
"They sent us plenty of tough competition," Casey said. "I watched Texas A&M beat LSU on TV. Rob Childress' teams are always good. They steal a lot of bases and have a filthy closer (Jason Jester). Santa Barbara is a very disciplined club with good pitching. Andrew has done a nice job with that group."
Oregon State faces a Texas-San Antonio team that has won seven in a row and 10 of its last 11 and Sunday wrapped up the Western Athletic Conference tournament title with an 11-4 rout of Dallas Baptist. The Roadrunners' team batting average is .304. The Beavers are likely to face freshman right-hander Brock Hartson (9-4, 3.10 ERA).
"They like to swing it, and have a good Friday night starter" in Hartson, Casey said. "He pitches to contact, is sneaky fast with a pretty good breaking ball."
If Oregon State gets through the regional, it would play the winner of the Manhattan regional, hosted by Kansas State (41-17), which has an RPI of 17.
It's the second straight national seed for Oregon, which was the No. 5 seed a year ago. The Pac-12 runner-up, with an RPI of 9, is ranked between No. 7 and 9 in the polls. The Ducks got the No. 8 seed despite a 9-10 record against ranked teams and a 6-10 mark against clubs with a 50 or higher RPI ranking. The Ducks lost twice in three-game series with Vanderbilt, Cal State Fullerton, Oregon State and UCLA.
The biggest threat to Oregon in this year's regional is Rice (41-17), a perennial NCAA tournament team with an RPI of 32.
The Ducks' first opponent is a South Dakota State team that finished second in the Summit League but won the league tournament to earn its first-ever NCAA appearance. The Jackrabbits have a slugger in outfielder Daniel Telford (.421, 6 home runs, 36 RBIs in 40 games) and three quality starters. Their RPI is 170, just behind Gardner-Webb (29-27) and ahead of Boston College (12-40).
If Oregon advances to a super regional, it goes against the winner of the Raleigh regional, hosted by North Carolina State (44-14), with an RPI of 7.
Nine Southeastern Conference teams and eight representing the Atlantic Coast Conference are among the 64-team field. Only four Pac-12 teams -- OSU, UO, UCLA and Arizona State -- made the field, as Arizona (34-21, RPI of 60) and Stanford (34-22, RPI of 65) were left out.
"I'm disappointed for our conference," Casey said. "I'd have liked to see Arizona and Stanford get in."
Casey will go with his usual three-man starting crew of senior left-hander Matt Boyd, freshman right-hander Andrew Moore and junior left-hander Ben Wetzler. The 19-year OSU skipper sees a potential increased role out of the bullpen for sophomore southpaw Jace Fry, who is back after Tommy John elbow surgery last June and pitched twice last weekend against the Cougars.
"Jace could do anything for us," Casey said. "He's getting stronger and stronger."
Casey said it's too early to compare this Oregon State club with the title teams of 2006 and '07.
"The teams are all good in different ways," Casey said. "The other clubs may have had more weapons. But one thing about this club, we have more senior leadership than I've ever had, and (junior catcher) Jake Rodriguez has been around. We have real good pitching and pretty good balance through our lineup.
"We're a national seed playing at home, and we've played well at home (22-4). So we go in feeling good about our chances."