Featured Stories

Other Pamplin Media Group sites

Local Weather

Fair

67°F

Portland

Fair

Humidity: 68%

Wind: 6 mph

  • 27 Aug 2014

    Clear 88°F 61°F

  • 28 Aug 2014

    Partly Cloudy 84°F 59°F


Ducks, Beavers ready for battle

UO, OSU both have shot to host an NCAA regional


by: ETHAN ERICKSON/OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY - Freshman Andrew Moore has emerged as one of Oregon State's mainstay starting pitchers.Central casting couldn’t have put together a better script for this weekend’s Civil War baseball series, which begins at 6 p.m. Friday at Eugene’s PK Park.

When Oregon State visits Oregon for the three-game set, much will be on the line, including pole position for the Pac-12 championship.

The Beavers, ranked between No. 3 and 7 in the five national polls, lead the Ducks, ranked between No. 6 and 11, by a game atop the Pac-12 standings with six games to play.

Also at stake is the chance to lay some late groundwork for either team — or both — to become one of eight national seeds, which would mean the opportunity to play host for regionals and super regionals in the NCAA tournament.

“If both teams end up in the position I think we will,” Oregon coach George Horton says, “there is no reason we both can’t host.”

Oregon State coach Pat Casey is in agreement.

“Where both teams are ranked, with our RPIs and with what we’ve done,” Casey says, “unless somebody loses seven in a row, there’s a very good chance.”

After this weekend, the teams will square off again in a nonconference affair next Tuesday in Corvallis. Then they face a final Pac-12 series — Oregon State at home against Washington State, Oregon at Utah. The Cougars (8-16) are next-to-last in the Pac-12, the Utes (6-21) last.

Nothing is a gimme in the Pac-12, but the Beavers and Ducks have both put themselves in prime position for the postseason.

“As spectacular a year as Oregon State is having, we’re having a great year, too,” Horton says. “With what coach Casey has been able to do in terms of consistency over the years, we’ve arrived at that level as well.

“If we both continue to do well the rest of this season, we both have a chance to host regionals and super regionals, which is pretty cool.”

From 2010-12, Horton was the Pac-12 adviser to the chairman of the West region (currently Randy Buhr of Washington State) on the eight-member NCAA selection committee. This season, California coach Dave Esquer is the conference’s adviser. The chairman of the committee is Big West Commissioner Dennis Farrell.

by: ERIC EVANS/UNIVERSITY OF OREGON - Sophomore Tommy Thorpe is in the Oregon Ducks starting rotation.Years ago, factors such as hotel space, city population, facilities and brand names played a role in national seeds and regional sites.

“You’d find the shenanigans with schools buying regionals and the committee awarding sites where they’d draw the best,” Horton says. “Now it’s pretty much the teams that earn it on the field get that honor. Even with some of the programs whose facilities aren’t quite up to speed — this isn’t us or Oregon State — they reward them with the opportunity to host.”

Before focusing on any of that, though, the Beavers and Ducks will concentrate on beating each other.

“We realize the magnitude of the (Civil War) series,” Casey says. “Every weekend through the season gets bigger if you continue to win. That’s what both of us have been doing. It makes for a big weekend for everybody involved.”

Two of the nation’s premier pitching staffs will be going head to head.

Oregon State ranks second nationally in team ERA at 2.06. Oregon is 10th at 2.62. The teams rank 1-2 in the Pac-12 in that department. Opponents are hitting .209 against the Beavers and .235 against the Ducks.

“With the quality and depth of their pitching staff, it’s a tough nut to crack when you’re going to find a way to score runs against the Beavers,” Horton says.

Oregon isn’t far behind. The Ducks held Ohio State to one run in 29 innings in sweeping the Buckeyes at Columbus last weekend.

Oregon State owns the top starting trio in the league, with junior left-hander Ben Wetzler (6-1, 1.46) and freshman right-hander Andrew Moore (10-1, 1.48) ranking second and third in the conference in ERA. Opponents are batting .193 against senior left-hander Matt Boyd (10-2, 2.04).

Oregon counters with sophomore lefty Tommy Thorpe (5-4, 2.62), freshman lefty Cole Irvin (10-2, 2.64) — the reigning Pac-12 pitcher of the week — and sophomore righty Jake Reed (6-3, 3.00).

Tyler Painton (1.20 ERA, .106 opponents’ batting average), Tony Bryant (1.55, .135), Max Engelbrekt (1.69) and closer Scott Schultz (1.24, .163) head OSU’s crack relief corps.

Freshman southpaw Garrett Cleavinger (7-0, .112) and right-handed junior closer Jimmy Sherfy (2-0, 1.03, 18 saves) are Oregon’s feature guys in what Casey calls “the best bullpen in the Pac-12.”

Oregon State has outhit Oregon .286 to .266 this season, led by junior Dylan Davis. The sophomore right fielder is hitting .342 with a Pac-12-leading 19 doubles and is fourth in the league with 42 RBIs.

Sophomore left fielder Michael Conforto (.328 with 37 runs, seven homers, 34 RBIs) leads the league with 34 walks and and a .456 on-base percentage.

Oregon is led at the plate by junior first baseman Ryon Healy (.333, tied for the Pac-12 lead with 10 HRs and a league-leading 47 RBIs) and freshman designated hitter Mitchell Tolman (.374 with a .444 on-base percentage and 30 RBIs in 36 games). Tolman was 7 for 12 in the Ohio State series and would rank second in the Pac-12 in hitting if he had enough plate appearances to qualify.

The Ducks, who beat OSU 6-3 in an April 9 nonconference game at Corvallis in the teams’ only meeting this season, has a penchant for winning close encounters. They are 12-4 in one-run decisions and 8-2 in two-run decisions.

"They win a lot of close games because their bullpen is so good," Casey says."We're going to have to score some runs, and they're tough to score runs on. They play good defense and they pitch. They've been very consistent with that."

Oregon State hasn't lost since dropping a doubleheader to Washington at Seattle on April 20. The Beavers are coming off Pac-12 sweeps of Southern Cal, California and Stanford.

"The Beavers look a lot like us, but in a more spectacular fashion," Horton says. "They can really pitch and play defense. Giving up two or three runs a game has been commonplace, and it looks like they're heating up with the bats. Not good news for us for having to face them this weekend."

Oregon will go into the series after having played host to Gonzaga in a pair of games Tuesday and Wednesday (4-3, 4-1 wins). Horton wishes now he hadn't scheduled the games against the West Coast Conference leaders. It means the Ducks will play 12 games over the final 15 days of the regular season.

"Call it stupidity or oversight or the inability to look in the crystal ball," he says. "In some years, you need those games. In a year like we're having, where you're going to be in (the NCAA playoffs) unless you fall flat on your face, you'd rather not play it.

"In 2015, we have (the Bulldogs) scheduled before our last series with UCLA, but we're going to discuss moving it to a different period of time."

Oregon State could clinch its first Pac-12 title since 2005 by sweeping the Ducks. But the Beavers are 1-5 in games at Eugene since the 2010 season. Will the homefield advantage loom large this weekend?

"We're going to find out," Casey says "We've not played well there of late. Part of that has to do with how good they've been. We're going to have to play our best baseball."

Oregon State has been a national player since a College World Series appearance in 2005, winning national championships the next two years. Oregon has been knocking on the door, coming within a game of reaching the CWS last season.

Now they collide in the biggest Pac-12 series this season.

"I'm working my way into this whole rivalry deal," says Horton, in his fifth year at Oregon. "When I came up here, the Beavers were the benchmark in the Northwest. Our program has grown and continues to progress. For the third straight year, this series will have a lot to say about who is the Pac-12 champion. We're proud of the fact that we've arrived, that we've put ourselves in this position.

"What has happened in Corvallis speaks volumes of the investment Oregon State's administration has made in their baseball program. What has happened (in Eugene) speaks volumes about the commitment of (former athletic director) Pat Kilkenny and our current administration. They had the vision to think we could do this at Oregon as well.

"I hope one of these years both of us go to Omaha (for the College World Series). And in a perfect storm, that we play each other for a national championship."

kerryeggers@portlandtribune.com

Twitter: @kerryeggers