OSU TAKES ON TAR HEELS AT COLLEGE WORLD SERIES
Taking a closer look at College World Series opponents North Carolina and Oregon State, along with comparisons of great OSU teams, Beavers in the major-league draft and assorted other entities ...
• North Carolina (43-18) started the season 7-7 before clicking into gear and winning the Atlantic Coast Conference Coastal Division title with a 22-8 record.
Like Oregon State, the Tar Heels swept through the competition 5-0 in winning a regional and super regional at home, flexing their offensive muscles with 48 runs (9.6 average) in the five games. A national No. 6 seed, North Carolina beat Stetson 7-4 and 7-5 in the two super regional contests and is headed for the CWS for the first time since 2013.
The Tar Heels have batted .286 with 55 home runs, led by junior third baseman Kyle Datres (.344 average with a .440 on-base percentage) and sophomore first baseman Michael Busch (.333, .478, 13 homers and 63 RBIs). Datres was chosen by Colorado in the 12th round of the draft.
"I've watched those guys play four or five times this year (on TV), even before I knew we were going to play them," OSU coach Pat Casey says. "They have some real hitters. (Datres and Busch) are special offensively. We're well aware of how dangerous that club can be."
North Carolina's pitching staff has a 3.60 ERA with a .239 opponents' batting average. Nobody has more than seven wins, and nine pitchers have started at least one game. Against Stetson, coach Mike Fox opened with 6-6, 200-pound junior right-hander Cooper Criswell (6-2, 2.82), who pitched five innings in a 7-4 win. The Tar Heels then started 6-6, 255-pound sophomore right-hander Gianluca Dalatri (2-2, 3.08), who went 3 1/3 innings in the close-out 7-5 victory.
The Tar Heels also have Austin Bergner (7-2, 4.28), Tyler Baum (4-1, 4.55) and 6-6, 240-pound junior right-hander Rodney Hutchison (3-3, 4.63) as starting options.
Reliever Caden O'Brien is 6-0 with a 2.14 ERA while closer Josh Hiatt is 3-2 with a 2.94 ERA. Hutchison was chosen in the sixth round by the New York Yankees and Criswell in the 13th round by the Angels.
"They don't have a superstar pitcher, but they great depth and a balanced staff," Casey says. "They're a damn good club."
• So, too, is Oregon State, the national No. 3 seed and the consensus No. 1 pick in the nation at the end of the regular season. The Beavers are also 5-0 in the postseason, dismantling their first four opponents before rallying for a 6-3 close-out victory over Minnesota last Saturday at Goss Stadium. OSU has outscored its tournament foes 49-8.
After the Beavers lost the finale to Southern Cal and UCLA in their final two regular-season series, Casey held a meeting with his players.
"We asked them to make a jump in their intensity and their focus," the 24th-year OSU coach says. "I feel really good about the way they have responded."
Casey was particularly pleased with the leadership shown by the three juniors chosen among the first 37 selections in the draft — second baseman Nick Madrigal, right fielder Trevor Larnach and shortstop Cadyn Grenier.
"For those guys to block that out — I mean really separate and not get wrapped up in that — that's hard to do," Casey says. "Those guys have done that by saying, 'There's something bigger going on with our club.' It's been rewarding to see how much the team means to those guys and what they've been willing to do to eliminate those kind of distractions. That's some real leadership."
• OSU coaches feel much better about their pitching situation than they did three weeks ago.
First there was freshman right-hander Kevin Abel, throwing the game of the Beavers' season in a 12-0 whitewash of Louisiana State to close out the regional.
There was freshman left-hander Christian Chamberlain, throwing "lights out," says Casey, in two critical innings of relief to gain the win in the close-out of Minnesota in the super regional.
And there was sophomore left-hander Brandon Eisert, who started the season slowly but has allowed one earned run over 13 innings and 10 appearances since the start of May.
"Some guys have stepped up at the right time," Casey says. "Abel and Chamberlain are guys we're going to need in Omaha, and they've improved with maturity and gotten more confidence. Eisert has gotten back to real good form. A lot of good things have been going on with our pitching staff."
Oregon State's defense has been superb, with just one error and a collection of highlight-reel plays in the postseason.
The Beavers' one concern heading to Omaha is with right-handed relievers. Junior Dylan Pearce, who was effective through the first two-thirds of the season, has struggled since the end of April. Junior Sam Tweedt, who has been good in his last three appearances, may be the first righty out of the bullpen at this point.
• The Beavers will enter the CWS and their noon Saturday PT opener with confidence and resolve, hoping to avenge last year's loss to LSU that prevented them from reaching the championship series.
"If we play well, we're capable of winning every game," Casey says. "We're capable of getting beat by anybody if we don't. We've had spells where we've played very well, but we really haven't been very consistent until recently.
"We took a big step forward when we won (the regional finale) against LSU and got a great performance out of Abel. When you're sitting there in a third game thinking no lead is safe, it's not a good feeling. Kevin's performance was something we've been looking for and gave our club confidence."
• Oregon State will open with senior left-hander Luke Heimlich (16-1, 2.32) in Saturday's opener against North Carolina.
The other teams on OSU's side of the eight-team bracket are Washington and Mississippi State.
Junior right-hander Bryce Fehmel (10-1, 2.87) will start the second game, and Abel (4-1, 3.58) is ticketed for the Beavers' third contest.
• The Beavers have seven starters batting better than .300 and are hitting a .320 — on school-record pace and ranked third in the country — with 59 home runs, one shy of the school's single-season mark. Is it the best-hitting lineup in Casey's 24 years at the OSU helm?
It's the best, at least, since that great run of CWS teams from 2005 to 2007, the latter two reigning as national champions. And the current club has by far the most home run power.
The 2005 team (46-12 overall, 19-5 in conference play) featured Jacoby Ellsbury, Andy Jenkins, Mitch Canham, Shea McFeely, Cole Gillespie, Tyler Graham and Darwin Barney. Team average: .316. Home runs: 39.
The 2006 team (50-16, 16-7) featured Gillespie, Barney, Graham, Canham, McFeely and Bill Rowe. Team average: .302. Home runs: 36.
The 2007 team (49-18, 10-14) featured Canham, Barney, Mike Lissman, Jordan Lennerton, Jason Ogata and Joey Wong. Team average: .287. Home runs: 46.
The other contender would be the 2017 team (56-6, 27-3), which featured Madrigal, Steven Kwan, KJ Harrison, Larnach and Michael Gretler. Team average: .291. Home runs: 31.
• Though this season's OSU pitching staff has come on of late and boasts a solid 3.26 ERA, it doesn't compare with the great staffs during the Casey era.
The best was last year's staff, which topped the nation by a whopping margin with a 1.93 ERA. The 2017 Beavers were led by Heimlich (11-1 and a nation-leading 0.86 ERA), Jake Thompson (14-1) and Fehmel (6-3) and relievers Max Englebrekt, Eisert and Jake Mulholland (six saves).
Next in line were probably the 2013 and '14 clubs. To wit:
The 2013 team (52-13, 24-6), which lost twice to Mississippi State in the CWS, had a 2.38 ERA. The staff featured starters Andrew Moore (14-2), Matt Boyd (11-4) and Ben Wetzler (10-1) and relievers Dan Child, Max Englebrekt, Tony Bryant and Scott Schultz (10 saves).
The 2014 team (45-14, 23-7), which lost to Cal Irvine in the Corvallis regional, had a 2.29 ERA. The staff featured starters Wetzler (12-1), Jace Fry (11-2) and Moore (6-5) and relievers Englebrekt, Zach Reser and Schultz (six saves).
Other great staffs included the 2005 team (3.06 ERA), led by starters Dallas Buck (12-1), Anton Maxwell (11-1) and Jonah Nickerson (9-2) and relievers Nate Fogle and Kevin Gunderson (14 saves); the 2006 team (3.41 ERA), led by starters Nickerson (13-4), Buck (13-3) and Mike Stutes (8-2) and relievers Daniel Turpen, Eddie Kunz, Joe Paterson and Gunderson (20 saves); the 2007 team (3.48), led by starters Stutes (12-4), Paterson (10-6), Turpen (10-1) and Jorge Reyes (7-3) and relievers Mark Grbrvac, Blake Keitzman and Eddie Kunz (12 saves), and the 2011 team (3.14), led by starters Sam Gaviglio (12-3), Josh Osich (6-4), Wetzler (6-3) and James Nygren (8-3) and relievers Matt Boyd, Schultz and Tony Bryant (12 saves).
• The recent major league draft proved to be the greatest in Oregon State history, with six players going in the first 10 rounds.
A look at the slotted bonus money for the half-dozen draftees:
Madrigal, first round (fourth pick), Chicago White Sox, $6.4 million.
Larnach, first round (20th), Minnesota, $3.1 million.
Grenier, competitive balance round between rounds one and two (37th), Baltimore, $1.9 million.
Kwan, fifth round, Cleveland, $303,000.
Drew Rasmussen, sixth round, Milwaukee, $251,000.
Gretler, 10th round, Pittsburgh (no figure available).
Grenier turned down a $1.6-million bonus offer out of high school by St. Louis, so his high-priced gamble paid off. He got three years of college experience, including two CWS appearances, and will be more major league-ready after he signs with the talent-needy Orioles.
Rasmussen went early despite a pair of Tommy John elbow surgeries, the second of which has sidelined him this season. He is rehabilating now and will soon begin a pitching regimen he hopes will have him ready to go next season.
"The Brewers got a steal," Casey predicts. "Drew is going to come back and have a big-league career."
Two other draft-eligible players — Fehmel and Mulholland — went undrafted. Fehmel got overtures from a couple of major-league teams who were considering drafting him in the middle rounds, but he decided the bonus money wouldn't have been enough to deter him from returning to the Beavers for his senior season.
• Three of Oregon State's 11 signees for its 2018 recruiting class were drafted.
Shortstop Jayce Easley of Glendale, Arizona, went in the fifth round to Arizona. The slot money for Easley — son of Damion Easley, an infielder who played 17 major-league seasons — is $347,000. Casey is hopeful the Diamondbacks won't offer enough money to persuade the junior Easler to forego a college career.
Right-handed pitcher Jake Pfennings of Post Falls, Idaho, went in the 35th round to San Diego.
Shortstop Jake Dukart of Lake Oswego — a quarterback who has signed a football letter-of-intent to Oregon State — went in the 36th round to Boston. Dukart has said if he goes to OSU he will focus on football. Casey believes if Dukart plays baseball for the Beavers, he is talented enough to contend for a starting infield position as a freshman.