OSU has chance to play spoiler
Oregon comes to Corvallis needing a series win to clinch the first Pac-12 baseball title
Published: Thursday, May 24, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, July 24, 2012 20:07
This time last year, Oregon State needed only one win in a three-game series against Oregon to win the Pac-12 title.
The Beavers were swept at PK Park in Eugene and finished tied for second with Arizona State.
The situation is nearly identical this year, but the teams have switched roles. Today, No. 5 Oregon (34-21, 18-9) will invade Goss Stadium to battle it out with No. 23 Oregon State (35-18, 15-12) for something greater than Civil War bragging rights.
If the Ducks win two of three, they will be crowned champions in a conference that currently possesses six teams ranked in the top 25.
Though the Beavers’ first priority is moving up in the standings themselves — OSU is currently in sixth place and two games out of third place — there’s the added incentive of knocking the Ducks out of the top spot.
“We have a chance to knock them out of the Pac-12 championship,” said junior right-fielder Ryan Barnes. “I think that’s one thing that’s motivating us a lot, just because they did it to us last year when we had a chance to win the Pac-12. The energy is going to be big.”
“I think of it as more of what we can do for ourselves than ruining it for them,” said head coach Pat Casey. “We need to play well going into the postseason and that starts with game one. But certainly we’re well aware that they kept us from winning a championship last year.”
As if finishing on a high note and knocking off their top rival isn’t enough motivation, Saturday will be senior day for the Beavers, which gives them another reason to finish the regular season on a high note.
“It’s crazy to think how fast this whole thing went,” said senior catcher Ryan Gorton. “It’s a little bit bittersweet, but it will be easy to get up for playing the Ducks. They got us pretty good last year, so I think it’s important we punch back and get back after them.”
Gorton, third baseman Ryan Dunn, second baseman John Tommasini, and pitcher Taylor Starr will be honored prior to Saturday’s game.
“All of those guys have been instrumental to our success,” added Casey. “It’s going to be really tough to see them go.”
On the field, OSU and Oregon are similar in many ways. The Oregon team that is on the brink of its first conference title since bringing back its baseball program plays a very similar style to the Oregon State team that nearly won the conference championship last season.
While the Ducks have elite pitching, they struggle to score runs at times, leaving them vulnerable and beatable. Yet, Oregon has been fantastic in close games all season, and has proven all season that its capable of doing whatever it takes to win ball games.
“Hitting-wise, their numbers aren’t typically where you would see an Arizona State or someone like that,” Casey said. “But batting average doesn’t always indicate production. I think I saw somewhere today they’ve won something like 15 one-run games, so obviously they pitch well at the end of games, too.”
Because Oregon State has benefited from tremendous starting pitching as well this season, runs will be hard to come by for both sides. Close games are something that both teams have been accustomed to all year, and something that the Beavers anticipate starting today.
“We just have to execute,” Barnes said. “When we’ve been playing good we’ve been executing, getting our bunts down, scoring runners when we need to, and getting clutch two-out hits. That’s huge for us with how good our starting pitching is. I think we just need a couple and we’ll be good.”
The two teams have played twice already this year, splitting two nonconference games. Though both sides started pitchers that might not even see action this weekend, the Civil War intensity was a precursor for what’s to come this weekend.
“They’re going to bring their best, and we’re going to bring our best,” Barnes said. “There’s a lot on the line. It’s going to be a battle and everybody knows it.”
Andrew Kilstrom, sports writer