OSU Has The Pieces In Place

Dec. 18, 2000

CORVALLIS, Ore. - Oregon State is looking at 2001 as an opportunity to continue what it started in 2000.

The Beavers feel the pieces are in place to give them not just another winning season, but also a strong chance at an NCAA Tournament berth. OSU brings back 16 lettermen - including 12 starters - from a team that carried postseason hopes into the final weekend of the season a year ago.

Many of the key components are proven players at the Division I level. Starters Scott Nicholson and Thad Johnson give the Beavers a tough lefty-righty combination around which to build a pitching staff, preseason third team All-America third baseman Brian Barden anchors an infield that returns four of five starters, and Eric Stark and Josh Carter put a pair of .300 hitters back in the outfield.

'We have the potential to be a pretty good club,' Oregon State head coach Pat Casey said. 'But that doesn't mean much unless you play up to your potential. So far, we feel good about how we played and what we got done during the fall, and we feel good about having a lot of starters back.'

Casey has also seen the Beavers putting effort into what it takes to turn potential into performance.

'This team made a big commitment to our strength and conditioning program and to our overall program goals,' said Casey, now in his seventh season at OSU. 'This group worked as hard as any I've coached through the first half of the year.'

OSU opens the season Feb. 2 at Cal State-Northridge, the Beavers' home-opener is Feb. 27 against Portland. Oregon State's home schedule includes 25 dates, with Pac-10 series against Arizona State, Southern California, California and Washington State plus non-league series against Minnesota, San Francisco, Gonzaga and Washington.

Nicholson (8-7 record, 4.72 ERA in 2000) was drafted by the Texas Rangers following the 2000 season but the lefthander chose to return to Oregon State for his senior season. As a junior, he pitched a 7-hitter to beat No. 4 Arizona State and a 5-hitter to top No. 5 Stanford.

Johnson (5-5, 4.96) may have been OSU's most dominant pitcher in the middle of the season. Among the senior righthander's losses was a 1-0, 3-hitter at No. 4 Arizona State in which the only run was unearned.

'That's a great start to a rotation,' Casey said of Nicholson and Johnson. 'Those two guys have a chance to really set the tone for us for a weekend.'

Possibilities for the third spot in the rotation are sophomore righthanders Stephen Copeland (3-0, 6.43) and Chris Wilkins and sophomore lefty Mark McLemore. Both Wilkins and McLemore are coming off strong summer seasons, Copeland had a terrific autumn as a pitcher and second baseman.

Roles in OSU's bullpen will be sorted out as the season progresses. Senior righthander Corky Wray, junior lefty Craig Hays, sophomore lefty Jed Mitchell, junior college transfer righthander Paul Williams and freshman lefthanders Jake Postlewait and Jake Quiring are looking to fill those roles.

'That's an area where some guys have shown they're capable,' Casey said. 'Now they have to show it in a game situation.'

Barden (.370, 8, 49), a sophomore, was named to the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association preseason All-America third team. That honor comes on the heels of being named to Collegiate Baseball's Freshman All-America team last season.

Other returning starters in the infield are senior second baseman Zach Gordon (.222, 11, 32), junior catcher Bryan Ingram (.288, 1, 16) and sophomore shortstop Will Hudson (.258, 0, 18). Sophomore Andy Jarvis (.339, 4, 32) takes over first base after spending last season platooning at designated hitter. Freshman Kerisi Reynolds and Paul Richie could also contribute.

'We should be very solid defensively,' Casey said of the infield. 'We felt Brian, Will and Zach were one of the top infields in the Pac-10 last spring, and hopefully they'll build on that this season. And Bryan Ingram keeps getting better behind the plate, we'll really look to him to be one of our leaders.'

Stark (.305, 4, 23), a senior, is a solid defensive centerfielder who has worked himself into becoming more of an offensive threat. In right, junior Josh Carter (.313, 4, 34) proved capable with the glove last season after making the move from third base.

Those two will be joined in leftfield by sophomore Chris Biles (.397, 2, 17) or freshman Levi Webber, who opted to attend OSU after being drafted by the Florida Marlins.

'That's an outfield that could help us out quite a bit offensively,' Casey said. 'And that doesn't come at the expense of defense. They could be pretty good with the gloves.'

Biles, Webber and senior Curtis Davis (.270, 3, 12) will take their turns as designated hitter.

'We should be able to more things offensively than we were able to a year ago,' Casey said. 'We've added more versatility to our lineup. We handle the bat better. We're looking to cut down on our number of strikeouts.

'The key - in all facets of the game - will be to execute, to do the little things that win games. Do that, and it could be a good year.'

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