Pac-12 baseball looking to build off opening weekend momentum
Pac-12 baseball had a strong start to 2014, going 25-13-1 on opening weekend, including four wins over top-20 ranked opponents. The Conference’s highest ranked teams heading into the new season--OREGON STATE and OREGON--didn’t miss a beat from a year ago as Oregon State went unbeaten in four games in Tempe, Ariz., and Oregon picked up the four-game sweep at Hawaii and Oregon State, essentially repeating the start both teams had to 2013. The defending national champion Bruins nabbed two hard-fought wins at home to pick up their first series win of 2014. USC turned in an impressive start to their 2014 campaign, earning two walkoff wins to capture their first weekend series sweep in almost two years. In all, the first weekend of 2014 featured several close games, with seven going extra innings and 17 being decided by two runs or less. The close-game experience should bode well for every team in the Conference as they try to build on the momentum heading into week two. Three teams remain ranked in the Baseball America’s top-25 in the same position as the preseason: OREGON STATE (2), OREGON (11), and UCLA (12). ARIZONA STATE and ARIZONA also earned praise in the polls this week. Several teams will be competing in tournaments over the weekend, including WASHINGTON, UTAH and Oregon State participating in the Pac-12/Big 10 Challenge in Surprise, Ariz., Arizona State heading to Southern California for the Long Beach State Tournament, and CALIFORNIA--fresh off a series split with No. 18 Texas--will travel to Auburn, Ala. for the Tiger Classic. STANFORD will also travel east for a weekend series with a top-25 ranked Longhorn team while Oregon will face Loyola Marymount on the road. Arizona, UCLA, USC and WASHINGTON STATE will enjoy the comforts at home this weekend with UCLA facing the toughest test as they host No. 22/26 Cal Poly.
The Wildcats picked up two of three to capture their first home series of 2014 against Kent State. In the opening day win, Arizona cruised to a 13-1 win behind right-hander James Farris in his debut as the Friday starter. The senior, who returned to school after behind drafted in the 15th round of the MLB draft last summer, gave up just run one on six hits over 7.2 innings of work, striking out nine and walking only one en route to his first win on the season. In its two wins, Arizona outscored the Golden Flashes 20-2 while tallying at least a dozen base hits in each game last weekend. Offensively, the Wildcats were led by sophomore infielder Cody Ramer who batted .500 (6-for-12) on the weekend, driving in three runs and scoring four more.
Arizona State (2-1)
The Sun Devils bounded back after a tough opening day loss to take two of three from Baylor at home over the weekend. After surrending seven runs in the final two innings in a 9-7 loss in game one, ASU got back on track, outscoring the Bears 19-5 in the final two games to capture the series. Freshman catcher Brian Serven had a stellar collegiate debut, collecting three RBI on three hits while scoring three runs in the pair of Sun Devil wins. Serven didn’t commit an error and had one assist as the starter behind the plate. ASU nabbed the series rubber match on Sunday thanks to a strong performance by sophomore starting left-hander Brett Lilek, who gave up just two hits across four scoreless innings and struck out a career-high seven batters, inlcuding five of the first seven he faced.
The Bears earned a series split with No. 18 Texas in a four-game tilt in Berkeley over the weekend, opening up the 2014 season with a 7-0 shutout of the Longhorns on Friday night. Cal was led by an impressive performance by freshman right-hander Daulton Jefferies, who gave up six hits, no runs, one walk and four strikeouts in 6.0 innings of work en route to being named Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week after his first collegiate start. Redshirt junior Derek Campbell sparked the Bears’ offense, batting .313 with five hits and three runs, inlcuding three doubles. Campbell also scored the game-winning run in the eighth inning on a hit by sophomore center fielder Devin Pearson to lift the Bears to the 2-1 victory.
The top-15 ranked Ducks spent opening weekend on the Hawaiian island of Oahu for a four-game series at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu. For the second-consecutive season the Ducks picked up a sweep on their season-opening series, outscoring the Warriors 29-14 and giving up no more than five runs in any of the four games. Junior right-handed pitcher Jake Reed earned a win and his first-career save in two appearances on the weekend. Reed pitched 2.1 innings in relief to earn the win as Oregon pulled out a 6-5 victory in a 10-inning game three of the series while his save came in a 3-2 win on opening day. The Ducks used a six-run eighth innning in the final game of the series to pick up head coach George Horton’s 900th career win.
Oregon State (4-0)
The Beavers entered the season with high expectations as a concensus top five team in the country, and the defending Pac-12 Champions got 2014 started on the right foot with an unbeaten season-opening weekend at the Husker Challenge in Tempe, Ariz. The OSU offense scored 40 runs in four games, led by reigning Pac-12 Player of the Year Michael Conforto. The junior outfielder hit .500 with seven hits, 11 RBI and five runs scored, earning his third-career Pac-12 Player of the Week honor. The closest game of the weekend came on opening day against Gonzaga as it took a come-from-behind effort by the Beavers and a two-out RBI single in the eighth by Jeff Hendrix to turn the Bulldogs away. Sophomore left-hander Max Engelbrekt worked a scoreless ninth to tally the save. OSU reached their highest ranking of the season in this week’s NCBWA poll, coming in at No. 1 after the impressive first weekend of play.
After dropping games one and two at home to No. 15 Rice, the Cardinal offense exploded in game three as Stanford picked up its first win of the season on Sunday. Scoring four runs combined in the first two games, the Cardinal tripled that total in the 12-3 victory. The team also collected more hits in winning game three than they had in the first two games combined. Senior infielder/designated hitter Brett Michael Doran held down the the offense over the weekend, going 4-for-7 (.571) with two doubles, a home run, and three RBI while scoring two runs. Of interesting note, the Cardinal started three freshman on the mound on opening weekend.
The top-15 ranked Bruins began their NCAA title defense with a grinding series at home with Portland that included two one-run games--one of them coming in 11 innings. Opening day starter, sophomore James Kaprielian, was solid in his first collegiate start, tossing five innings and striking out seven while only allowing run one; however, the Pilots’ pitching staff was able to shutout the Bruins and the single run proved to be enough for a Portland win. The Bruins came back firing in game two as junior left-hander Grant Watson was brilliant in his first start of 2014, allowing just three hits in seven innings while matching a career-high with eight strikeouts in a 12-1 UCLA win. Series-deciding game three came down to a double by junior Shane Zeile in the bottom of the 11th to give the Bruins the walkoff victory. All-American reliever David Berg tossed four scoreless innings to pick up his first win of the season.
Picked to finish near the bottom of the Pac-12, the Trojans under second-year head coach Dan Hubbs got off to a good start, sweeping their season-opening series at home over Northwestern. It was USC’s first weekend series sweep in almost two years (March 9-11, 2012). The Trojan offensive attack was led by junior catcher/outfielder Garrett Stubbs, who was spent Friday and Sunday behind the plate and Saturday in left field. Over the weekend, Stubbs hit .429 (6-for-14) with one RBI and scored three runs without striking out in three games. The first two wins of the season did not come easy as both ended as one-run games in extra frames, including a 15-inning marathon on Saturday. After two walkoff victories, the Trojans got a bit of a breather as their bats exploded on Sunday en route to a 13-6 win at home. Senior right-hander James Guillen picked up two wins in relief, giving up just one hit in 1.1 innings as he kept Northwestern off the board, giving the Trojans the chance to complete the walkoff victories.
The Utes kicked off 2014 on the road for a four-game series in California at Sacramento State, picking up the series split after close games on the weekend. Each of the four games were decided by run one, with Utah earning wins on Saturday and Monday. Sophomore catcher AJ Young had an impressive opening weekend, hitting .500 (5-for-10) with 4 RBI and one run while playing in three of four games. In Saturday’s win 2-1 win, Young went 3-for-3 with an RBI single in the seventh to give the Utes a 2-0 lead that they never relinquished. Senior left-hander Tanner Banks gave up one run on two hits in 7.0 innings of work to earn the victory.
The Huskies traveled two time zones to open 2014 at the Texas State Tournament in San Marcos, Texas to take on Air Force, Michigan and tournament host Texas State. After dropping the opener to Air Force on Friday morning, the Huskies rebounded in their doubleheader nightcap against Michigan, picking up the 8-6 win in extra innings. UW kept the momentum going on Saturday as they notched a 6-1 win against the hosts. Sunday brought a rematch with Michigan, where the Huskies bounced back from a 6-0 deficit in the third inning to earn the 7-7 tie. Starring on the offensive side was second baseball Andrew Ely who went 6-for-14 (.429) with a home run, double, two RBIs and four runs. The junior hit safely in all four games and now owns an 11-game hitting streak dating back to last season. Junior pitcher Tyler Davis played a part in each of Washington’s wins, recording a win vs. Texas State and a save in the first Michigan game to preserve the win in a game that went to 10 innings. In 4.2 innings, Davis did not allow a run, giving up just four hits while striking out three and walking one.
Washington State (1-3)
The Cougars had arguably the toughest opening season series, facing a Cal State Fullerton team on the road that was almost a concensus preseason No. 1. Despite a rough game one, WSU held their own against a talented squad, stealing a 9-7 win in 11 innings on Saturday and losing a close one, 5-4, on Sunday. In Saturday’s extra frame-win, freshman closer Ian Hamilton picked up his a win in his collegiate debut, logging three-shutout innings to notch his first-career victory after retiring six of the final seven batters he faced. After going 1-2 at CS Fullteron, WSU faced UC Riverside on Monday before heading back to the Northwest and rounded out the road trip with a 12-7 loss. Redshirt sophomore Nick Tanielu provided the offensive spark for the Cougars, going 7-for-16 (.438) with two doubles, two RBI while scoring two runs.