Defending Champion Oregon State Hoping For Postseason Run
May 25, 2007
Pat Casey knew what was in store for Oregon State shortly after the Beavers left Omaha with the College World Series title last June.
'I've heard other coaches who've won national championships, especially in other sports, talk about how difficult that is following that up, where every weekend you go out and expect to win them all and everybody wants to beat you,' Casey said. 'This hasn't been any different. It's been very difficult.'
The Beavers were 36-16 heading into their final regular-season series at UCLA this weekend, and have been feeling the pressure lately as defending champs. Despite an impressive overall record, Oregon State was tied for seventh place in the Pac-10 Conference at 8-13 - and in danger of missing the postseason.
'We've really created a big mountain climb for ourselves, but we're 36-16 and these kids are kind of walking around right now like they're 16-36,' Casey said. 'It's because I think they've put way too much pressure on themselves the last couple of weeks and everybody comes here wanting to take you on.'
The Pac-10 doesn't have a postseason tournament, so Oregon State likely needs to win at least two of three at UCLA and then hope the NCAA selection committee rewards the Beavers with an at-large bid Monday.
'This team is definitely one of the 64 best teams in the country,' Casey said. 'That's without question, but that doesn't always dictate who gets into the tournament.'
It's an interesting dilemma for the selection committee: The Beavers, who opened the season 23-3, are ranked in the top 30 in a number of national polls and their RPI is 29 in the latest NCAA rankings. But how teams finish plays a major factor. Oregon State was 2-7 in its last nine, including four straight losses, and dropped three straight series - including getting swept at home by Arizona State - heading into the weekend.
'If you look at the majority of the season, we were in the top 12 in the country, probably 40 games into it,' Casey said. 'The hard thing is how the committee looks at how you do in the end, and we haven't played well the last couple of weekends.'
In some ways, the fact Oregon State has a chance at defending its title is an accomplishment in itself. The Beavers lost two key starters in Dallas Buck and Jonah Nickerson, the CWS Most Outstanding Player, as well as star closer Kevin Gunderson. Mike Stutes (9-4, 3.64 ERA), Daniel Turpen (8-1, 3.87) and Joe Paterson (6-6, 4.04) - who all had big roles as spot starters and relievers last season - and closer Eddie Kunz (2-0, 2.31, nine saves) have all stepped in and had good years.
The Beavers also lost a number of key position players, including first baseman Bill Rowe, second baseman Chris Kunda, third baseman Shea McFeeley and outfielders Cole Gillespie and Tyler Graham. Three of the main holdovers - catcher Mitch Canham (.345, 9 HR, 52 RBIs), outfielder Mike Lissman (.330, 7, 50) and shortstop Darwin Barney (.292, 2, 41) - have been solid for a team that has outscored opponents 354-202.
So what's gone wrong late in the season? Well, some bad luck and a lack of clutch hitting. Five of the seven losses have been by three or fewer runs.
'I think our guys are putting too much pressure on themselves when they get into those situations,' Casey said. 'They're not responding in a manner that they have to play this game, and that's loose.'
Perhaps expectations were raised to another level when the Beavers opened the season - their first game since winning the College World Series as the scrappy underdogs from the Pacific Northwest - with a combined no-hitter at Hawaii-Hilo.
'There was not a thought coming into this season about anything other than, 'Hey, you know, this club is going to be pretty good down the road,'' Casey said. 'Now you've got a club that's 36-16 and people wanted them to hoist the trophy before we even got into the season. I do believe that there's an added pressure to that, and certainly it's a learning experience. The ball bounces funny ways and you've got to respond in a way where if you lose that one-run game, you can't come out the next day and not play like a champion.'