Conference play underway for Pac-12 baseball
Pac-12 baseball will look to improve its non-conference record of 98-65-1 as seven teams will take on out-of-league foes in mid-week games on Tuesday and Wednesday before Conference play continues this weekend. Pac-12 leader OREGON STATE picked up right where it left off heading into to the league slate as the Beavers notched a weekend sweep of Utah on the road to extend its winning streak to 10. After a lull halfway through the first month of the season, UCLA rebounded nicely to take three from CALIFORNIA in the Bay Area over the the weekend and have now won five-consecutive to get back near the top of the standings. The Washington schools turned in impressive weekends in Arizona as both WASHINGTON and WASHINGTON STATE notched series wins on the road in the first weekend of Conference competition. It was the Huskies’ first series victory at ARIZONA STATE since 2004 while the Cougs recorded their first series win over ARIZONA since 2009. Three teams continue to be ranked in the four major collegaite baseball polls, with little movement in the top two Pac-12 teams in Baseball America’s top-25 but a slight jump for the Bruins: Oregon State (4), Oregon (12), and UCLA (22). The league schedule contines on Friday, highlighted by the opening of UW’s brand new Husky Ballpark as Arizona will be the first opponents for the Huskies in their new facility. Also hosting home contests this weekend are Oregon State (vs. ARIZONA STATE), OREGON (vs. UTAH), UCLA (vs. WSU) and STANFORD (vs. USC)--who is coming back from a week off from action. California has a tough non-conference weekend series on deck as they travel to #7/10 Cal Poly for a four game series. Four games will air live on Pac-12 Networks as spring sports coverage ramps up, starting with Friday’s matchup of Arizona State at Oregon State and USC at Stanford. First pitch for both is set for 7 p.m. PT.
The Wildcats picked up a midweek series sweep over Air Force last week, outscoring the Falcons 24-4 in the two game tilt. They unfortunately followed that up by dropping their first Conference series of 2014 as they dropped two close ballgames at home against Washington State over the weekend. After exploding for 12 runs in the opening game against the Cougars, Arizona couldn’t get the bats going enough to overcome the Cougars, losing both games by just one run. Despite recent struggles, Arizona still ranks at the Conference in every major offensive statistical category, including batting average (.319), slugging percentage (.420), on base pct (.405), runs scored (154), hits (245) and runs batted in (136). Two Wildcats also own the top two spots in the Pac-12 in batting average, led by Scott Kingery (.443) and followed by Trent Gilbert (.404).
Arizona State (9-8)
After winning five of seven entering last week, the Sun Devils went 2-2 and dropped a home series to Washington over the weekend. ASU took care of New Mexico 8-5 in a weekday game, then opened the series against the Huskies with a 4-1 victory that snapped a seven game wining streak by UW. In that game, standout pitcher Brett Lilek continued a superb sophomore campaign, going seven innings for a second-consecutive outing and giving up just one run on four hits with six strikeouts. A hit with two outs in the seventh inning ended a streak of 20 scoreless innings by Lilek, who is second in the Conference with a 0.96 ERA.
After winning eight of their first ten, the Bears have had a rough couple weeks as they have dropped six of eight. The two wins did come over a No. 24-ranked Arkansas team and half of the ten victories this seaso have come over ranked treams. Facing the defending national champions on the opening weekend of Conference play, UCLA’s pitching staff was just too much for Cal bats as they managed just 4 runs in three losses to the Bruins. Despite the setbacks this weekend, the Bears’ have been led by their pitching staff this season, which ranks third in the Pac-12 with a 2.78 ERA and in the top six in opposing batting aveage (.240, 6th), innings pitched (162.0, 6th), and wins (10, t-6th).
The Ducks have gotten back to their winning ways as they have won six of their last eight after dropping three straight. Hosting USC in the first Conference series in 2014, Oregon recovered from a close 3-2 setback in the opening game on Friday to take the next two, both by a score of 7-2. The Ducks’ pitching staff continues to deliver as they gave up just 7 runs in three games this weekend and are ranked fourth in ERA (2.83), third in opposing batting average (.207) and first in batters struck out (174). Senior right-hander Jeff Gold has been especially superb on the mound for Oregon, who has posted a 5-0 record with a 2.56 ERA in 31.2 innings pitched so far this year. On Sunday, Gold picked up his 18th-career win, the fourth-most in Oregon history.
Oregon State (18-3)
The top-5 Beavers are living up to their billing so far this season having now reeled off 10-consecutive wins en route to owning an 18-3 record. The Pac-12 favorites carried the non-conference momentum through to the first Pac-12 series as they swept Utah on the road over the weekend. The pitching staff was especially stellar for OSU as weekend starters Ben Wetzler, Andrew Moore and Jace Fry gave up a combined 3 runs, with Fry posting his second-consecutve shutout on Sunday. The junior lefty has been outstanding the Beavers, especially as of late, as he has allowed just three hits and recorded 16 strikeouts in his last 18 innings of work. Fry is the first OSU pitcher to reach four wins this season, and--proving how superb this pitching staff is for the Beavers-- is third on the team with a 1.56 ERA behind Wetzler and Moore. As a pitching staff, OSU owns a Conference-leading 1.83 ERA and have four pitchers in the top-7 in that category (Wetzler, Moore, Fry and Schultz). The offense has been just has productive as the Beavers are in the top two in runs scored (146) and runs batted in (193).
After a bye week, Stanford will look to build off momentum from a series win over then-No. 26-ranked Kansas two weeks ago. The Cardinal open up Conference play at home this weekend as they host the Trojans of USC from Friday-Sunday. Friday’s and Sunday’s game will both be televised as Pac-12 Networks’ coverage ramps up for Conference play. Heading into the weekend, Stanford has four regular starters with batting averages over .300 leading--led by third baseman Alex Blandino at (.365) and Austin Slater (.340). In its seven wins this season, Stanford has outscored opponents 55-20.
The top-25 ranked Bruins have strung together five straight wins, including sweeping California this past weekend, after losing three straight heading into to Conference play. The week began with a 5-0 win over then top-25 ranked UC Irvine on Wednesday before traveling to Cal to open the Pac-12 slate. Facing a Bears team that has found success against ranked teams this season, UCLA relied on strong pitching to pick up three in the Bay Area as they gave up just 4 runs in the three wins and four runs total in the four victories this week. Junior Grant Watson highlighted the strong performance on the mound by the Bruins, giving up just one run on two hits in 8.0 innings of work to pick up his third win on the season in the 3-1 win over the Bears. The left-hander earned Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week honors for his outing, marking the third different Bruin to earn a weekly honor this season. Offensively, redshirt sophomore Christoph Bono led the way this week, collecting four doubles, five RBI and six runs scored in four games. Bono also currently owns a seven-game hitting streak and has recorded multi-hit games in four of the last seven.
The Trojans had a tough task the first weekend of Conference play, having to travel to top-15 ranked Oregon for their opening Pac-12 series. The week started off on a good note as USC beat Loyola Marymount 6-1 to break a four-game losing streak. The weekend series against the Ducks also got off to a good start as the Trojans grinded out a 3-2 win in the opening game on Friday. The rest of the weekend was bit rough, however, as USC dropped Saturday and Sunday’s game by an identical score of 7-2. After starting the season unbeaten through the first seven games, the Trojans have struggled in the last couple weeks dropping eight of the last 11, but after going 2-2 this week will look to bounce back as they travel to Stanford. Junior catcher Garrett Stubbs was a key spark plug in the two wins last week, going 4-for-7 with two RBI, two runs scored and one double while his on-base percentage for the week was an impressive .500. Fellow junior Wyatt Strahan turned in a solid outing on the mound in the 3-2 victory over the Ducks, giving up just two runs on seven hits in 7.2 innings of work to earn his first win of the season.
The Utes hit a speed bump last week, losing all four contests after winning three straight the previous week. The bump came in the form of defending Pac-12 champion and current Conference leader Oregon State. Following a 9-3 loss at UT-Arlington, the Utes hosted the top-5 ranked Beavers for a weekend series. The OSU arms and bats proved to be too much for Utah as they only managed 2 runs in three games while allowing the Beavers 19 runs. The Utes will look to bounce back with a midweek at home against Utah Valley before heading to top-15 ranked Oregon for a three game tilt over the weekend. They will look to senior infielder TJ Bennett to provide an offense spark as he leads the team in batting average (.293) and RBI (5) while he is tied for third in hits (15) and tied for first in doiubles (4). Utah will rely on sophomore right-hander Bret Helton to anchor the pitching staff. Helton currenlty holds a 2-1 recor dan dleads the team in ERA (2.70).
Washington continued its strong play during the first weekend of Conference play as the Huskies picked up their first series road win over Arizona State since 2004. After winning only three of its first eight games, UW has won nine of its last 10, including a seven game win streak. While ASU ended the streak in the opening game of the series by handing the Huskies a 4-1 loss, UW bounced right back on Saturday with a 9-3 victory. Sunday’s rubbermatch wasn’t an easy one as it took a game-winning home run in the 11th inning to secure the series victory in their last visit to Packard Stadium. Sunday’s hero was junior second baseman Andrew Ely, who blasted the home run on the first pitch of the at bat in the second extra frame. Over the series, Ely batted .400 (4-for10) with a slugging percentage of 1.100 and on-base percentage of .538 and hit a home run, triple, two doubles, scored four runs and drove in two en route to being name Pac-12 Player of the Week. While the pitching staff has been solid, it has been the team’s savy for saves that has been crucial to Washington’s winning as they have recorded saves in half of their wins, tied for most in the Conference.
Washington State (6-9)
With two of three wins on the road against Arizona to take their frist series from the Wildcats since 2009, the Cougars have now won two-consecutive series in 2014--just a week after winning their first one-- and have won five of their last eight games. WSU found a way to recover in games two and three after getting blown out 12-1 in the series opener on Friday. On Saturday, the Cougs trailed by one heading into the ninth inning but thanks to a two-run single by P.J. Jones in the top of the ninth WSU pulled out a 6-5 victory over the Wildcats. Sunday’s rubber match produced another close game as Tanner Chleborad was stellar, giving up just one run on 6 1/3 innings to help the Cougars to a 3-1 victory to secure the series.