OSU Starts Pursuit Of Postseason Berth

Jan. 31, 2005

There will be quite a few new faces and higher expectations for Oregon State when the 2005 baseball season opens, but the Beavers goal remains the same this spring: A place in the NCAA Regionals.

'Our challenge is a little different than last year, because last year we had a little more experience going in,' said OSU head coach Pat Casey, now in his 11th season with the Beavers. 'This year, we're going to put some faces out there who have never been there, and even if they're a junior college guy who has played a couple years of college baseball or a high school guy, we've got some kids who have never played a Division I game and we have to be prepared for that.

'They need a little game experience, but we've worked tremendously hard toward some common goals and that's going to pay off for us.'

Oregon State begins the 2005 season this weekend at Arizona State's Bob Schaefer Memorial Tournament. The Beavers play their opener against New Mexico State on Thursday at 5 p.m. PST, and the game can be heard on www.osubeavers.com

Last season, OSU was 31-22 overall and 10-14 in the Pacific-10 to tie for sixth place. The Beavers have 17 returning lettermen from that club but will be looking to a number of new players to contribute.

Even with the number of newcomers, it's far from a rebuilding year for the Beavers. OSU has a pair of preseason All-Americans to build around in sophomore pitcher Dallas Buck (3-6 record, 5.06 earned run average, 6 saves in 2004) and junior outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury (.352 batting average, 3 home runs, 20 runs batted in, 20-for-24 stolen bases). Baseball America magazine named Buck, a righthander, to its second team and Ellsbury to its third team.

After earning Summer All-America first team honors for his performance in the Cape Cod League in 2004, Buck is the marquee name on a pitching staff that figures to be one of OSU's strengths. Three more sophomores figure to make a huge contribution - lefthander Kevin Gunderson (6-2, 2.90, 3), who was named to Collegiate Baseball's Freshman All-America team in 2004; righthander Jonah Nickerson (4-3, 5.67); and righthander Jake McCormick (0-0, 3.23).

'We really haven't nailed down people that are specifically going to be starters or what role they're going to be in, but I think we have some pretty good depth on the staff,' Casey said. 'Some guys who have never pitched Division I baseball are going to have to be part of that. But we need some people who have been here to help us out, and we need to establish that rotation. We feel very good about Dallas Buck being in that rotation, we know Kevin Gunderson could be one of our starters if that's the best role for him but he's so effective in so many other roles that we just have to figure out what's best for the team. Jonah Nickerson is another guy who could really help us in a number of roles on our staff.'

Those who could step in as key figures on the mound include junior righthander Nate Fogel (5-2, 1.84; all-league first team junior college in 2004), junior lefthander Anton Maxwell (2-0, 2.82; all-league second team JC), freshman righthander Daniel Turpen (9-1, 0.98, all-state first team high school) and freshman righthander Eddie Kunz (all-state first team HS).

At the plate, the Beavers will continue to evolve from a power-hitting club to one that relies more on speed and execution to score.

'I do feel that we can get runners started. I feel our team speed continues to improve, and I think we've got a few more options as far as right-left matchups,' Casey said. 'There are some great competitive battles going on for some spots, and that makes it good. I think we've got a little more depth.'

Oregon State should be able to depend on production from its outfield, starting with Ellsbury in center; he was an All-Pacific-10 first team selection in 2004. He earned an invitation to the USA Baseball National Team Trials last year despite missing part of the season due to injury, and Baseball America named him the 17th-best pro prospect in the prestigious Cape Cod League in 2004.

The likely starter in rightfield will be junior Tyler Graham (.346, 0, 9, 7-for-9 SBs), who made the switch from infield to outfield in 2004 and moved into the starting lineup late in the season. Sophomore Mike Lissman (.349, 8, 34) provides some power in the leftfield spot after a solid collegiate debut.

Three starters return in the infield - junior third baseman Shea McFeely (.294, 5, 38), junior second baseman Chris Kunda (.245, 0, 13) and senior first baseman Andy Jenkins (.274, 6, 30). Kunda will be pushed for the job by junior transfer Ryan Gipson (.358, 16-for-16 SBs; all-league first team JC) and Jenkins will battle sophomore Cole Gillespie (.290, 1, 4), who got a number of starts down the stretch in 2004. The leader for the shortstop position is freshman Darwin Barney (.611, 8, 25, 19-19 SBs; all-state first team HS).

At catcher, junior Billy Munich (.128, 0, 5) spent the last two seasons as the backup and will compete for the job with redshirt freshman Casey Priseman and freshman Rob Folsom (.426, 6, 22; all-state first team HS). Sophomore Mitch Canham (.167, 0, 0) could see time at catcher or first base.

The designated hitter spot could go to senior Chris Campos (.286, 7, 34) or junior transfer Joey Ledesma (.280 JC).

'Defensively, I think the outfield is going to be as good as anybody in the Pac-10 as a whole,' Casey said. 'I know we'll be better defensively up the middle than we were last year. Obviously, we need to have somebody establish themselves behind the plate - that's a defensive position and we need someone there to show that they can do that on a consistent basis. Our corner guys are going to need to be a little more offensive. Shea had a good year defensively last year; he needs to be a guy who drives in runs for us. At first base, we've got a couple different people who can play there.

'We want to be solid, but I think we'll have a much better defensive club than we had last year overall. We'll run some balls down, and the key to everything is to minimize the runners we put on base through walks and errors.'

In 2004, the Beavers were blessed with some strong, experienced leaders but most of those players are gone due to graduation and the draft.

'That's the thing we don't know,' Casey said of OSU's leadership. 'We haven't been out on the road, we haven't had a good win or a tough loss. With Jake Postlewait and Aaron Mathews and Paul Richie, we had some great leadership; now it's time for some people who have the same type of ability to do that.

'Our captains are Andy Jenkins and Jacoby Ellsbury and Kevin Gunderson and Mike Lissman, and all four of those guys have the ability to lead us and all four are diversified in what they do for our club.'

When it comes to overall team makeup, Casey likes what he sees.

'I think we've got a great mix of guys,' Casey said. 'I like the fact that we have a pretty good energy for the game. I think we have enough new faces that there's a push to get better and we have enough guys who had success last year that there's a sense of confidence in what we're doing.'

OSU has put together strong campaigns over the past several years only to have postseason bids slip away down the stretch. The aim now is to combine another solid start with the type of finish that will result in a trip to the NCAA Regionals.

'The main thing is staying consistent and believing in what we're doing when we get to conference play,' Casey said. 'You might play 12 straight games, four series in a row, against top 20 clubs in your own conference and you can't be in a mode where you don't play well during that time. You've got to get consistent.

'We've got to stay healthy. We've got to have people pitch at the front of the game and have people finish for us. Last year I thought we were just a couple defensive plays away from being in the tournament and we've worked hard to become better defensively.

'Our guys should be ready to go.'

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