Conference play heats up in Pac-12 Baseball

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Approaching the halfway point in the season, Pac-12 baseball has a surprise leader at the top as WASHINGTON--a team picked to finish 10 out of 11--has a two game lead over OREGON STATE, OREGON and UCLA after three weekends of Conference play. While there is still a lot of season left the play, the Huskies have been impressive, winning 10 in a row and 17 of their last 18. The Beavers and Ducks both picked up series wins over the weekend to lock up a three-way tie that includes the Bruins of UCLA, who dropped two of three to ARIZONA STATE to fall into the deadlock. It was a good week in the rankings for Pac-12 Baseball, who now have four teams--Oregon State, Oregon, UCLA, Washington-- unanimously ranked in the four major polls with the Huskies making their debut in three of the four. The Sun Devils became the league’s fifth ranked team after returning to Collegiate Baseball’s  Top-30 at No. 25. Meanwhile, UW (14) also joined Oregon State (6), Oregon (19) and UCLA (21) in Baseball America’s Top-25. It’s the first time since 2006 the Huskies have appeared in the poll and it’s their highest ranking since 2005. Pac-12 play heats up this weekend with a top-25 showdown between the Huskies and Ducks, with all three games set to be televised live on Pac-12 Networks. First pitch is Friday at 7 p.m. PT. Four teams--Oregon State, UCLA, USC, and Oregon--will play non-conference foes during the week before Pac-12 play resumes over the weekend. STANFORD will visit CALIFORNIA tonight for a non-conference contest while UCLA will take a break from Conference action for a three-game set with Long Beach State. Along with Washington hosting Oregon for three games Friday-Sunday, other teams hosting Conference games this weekend include UTAH (vs. ARIZONA), WASHINGTON STATE (vs. California), Arizona State (vs. USC), and Oregon State (vs. Stanford). The Cardinal will be an intruging matchup for the Beavers as Stanford is fresh off a series upset over the Ducks and looking to win its third series over a ranked opponent this year. 

UPCOMING SCHEDULE
Tuesday, April 1
#6/6 Oregon State at Portland, 3:00 p.m. PT
#21/26 UCLA at Loyola Marymount, 6:00 p.m. PT
Long Beach State at USC, 6:00 p.m. PT
#19/14 Oregon at Gonzaga, 6:00 p.m. PT
Stanford at California*, 7:00 p.m. PT (P12N)
 
Wednesday, April 2
#19/14 Oregon at Gonzaga, 3:00 p.m. PT
 
Friday, April 4
Arizona at Utah* (Live Stream), 12:00 p.m. MT
Stanford at #6/6 Oregon State*, 5:05 p.m. PT
#21/26 UCLA at Long Beach State, 6:00 p.m. PT
California at Washington State* (Live Stream), 6:00 p.m. PT
USC at #25 Arizona State*(Live Stream), 6:30 p.m. PT
#19/14 Oregon at #14/11 Washington*, 7:00 p.m. PT (P12N)
 
Saturday, April 5
Arizona at Utah* (Live Stream), 12:00 p.m. MT
Stanford at #6/6 Oregon State*, 1:35 p.m. PT
California at Washington State* (Live Stream), 2:00 p.m. PT
Long Beach State at #21/26 UCLA, 2:00 p.m. PT
USC at #25 Arizona State* (Live Stream), 6:30 p.m. PT
#19/14 Oregon at #14/11 Washington*, 7:00 p.m. PT (P12N)
 
Sunday, March 30
Arizona at Utah*(Live Stream), 12:00 p.m. MT
California at Washington State* (Live Stream), 12:00 p.m. PT
USC at #25 Arizona State* (Live Stream), 12:30 p.m. PT
#21/26 UCLA at Long Beach State, 1:00 p.m. PT
Stanford at #6/6 Oregon State*, 1:05 p.m. PT
#19/14 Oregon at #14/11 Washington*, 3:00 p.m. PT (P12N)
 
Games are local to site and subject to change. 
Rankings are from Baseball America/Collegiate Baseball.
*Conference games
 
PAC-12 BASEBALL NOTES
Arizona (12-18, 2-7) 
The Wildcats’ midseason woes continued last week as they dropped three of four and now nine of their last 10. While they dropped two of three at home against top-10 ranked Oregon State, Saturday’s 11-2 win over the Beavers was an impressive one. On Friday and Saturday combined, the Wildcats hit over .300 against Oregon State. Despite recent struggles, the Arizona offense continues to be aggressive as it ranks near the top of the Conference in every major offensive statistical category, including batting average (.303, 1st), slugging percentage (.399, 2nd), on-base pct (.390, 2nd), runs scored (183, 1st), and hits (312, 1st). As a team the Wildcats rank 24th nationally in batting average, tied for 22nd in runs scored, and eighth in hits. Individually, two Wildcats also own the first and third spots in the Pac-12 in batting average as Trent Gilbert (.392, 1st) and Scott Kingery (.378, 3rd) continue to lead the Arizona attack.
 
Arizona State (15-11, 5-4)  
It was a good week for the Sun Devils--who returned to the polls this week at No. 25--as they recorded their second-consecutive road series win over a ranked Conference foe, this time taking two of three from UCLA over the weekend. After taking care of in-state rival Arizona 14-6 in a Wednesday evening non-conference contest, ASU dropped the series opener to the Bruins on Friday, but responded on Saturday with a 8-5 rebound victory. In Sunday’s rubber match, ASU used another come-from-behind effort to tie it up in the ninth inning, eventually winning 6-5 in extra frames. After losing four of five, ASU has now won five of its last six to get back on track. Sophomore right-hander Ryan Burr earned his sixth save of the season on Saturday, good for fourth in the Pac-12. Offensively, as a team the Sun Devils rank No. 2 in hits (263), third in slugging percentage (.395) and fourth in the Pac-12 in batting average (.292). 
 
California (14-12, 3-3)
After dropping 10 of 13, the Bears picked up their first three-game series sweep of the season as they  recorded three close wins over Utah at home last weekend. The wins also marked Cal’s first three Conference wins of 2014 and brought them to .500 in league play. The victories didn’t come easy as the Bears only won the three games by a combined three runs, including two one-run victories on Saturday and Sunday. Senior right-hander Trevor Hildenberger picked up a win and two saves for the Bears over the weekend to help propel them to the series sweep. The Bears’ pitching staff has continued to be solid, ranking sixth in the Pac-12 with a 3.60 ERA and fifth in opposing batting average (.248). The offense is led by Brended Farney and Derek Campbell, who are hitting at a .375 and .268 clip, respectively. Campbell’s five home runs are currently tops for an individual player in the Pac-12.   
 
Oregon (19-8, 6-3) 
The Ducks had a bit of a rough week in the Bay Area following a five-game winning streak to close out a 15-game homestand. After splitting a midweek two-game tilt with San Francisco, the Ducks dropped both games of a double header on Friday at Stanford to record their first Pac-12 series loss of the season. They were, however, able to salvage Sunday’s series finale to stay in a three-way second-place tie with Oregon State and UCLA. Despite the setbacks last week, the Ducks have won 11 of its last 16 and continue to be ranked in the top-20 in every major poll this week. Sophomore infielder Mitchell Tolman led the Ducks ‘offense this week, hitting .368 (7-for-19), with four RBI and three runs scored. On the mound, Matt Krook pitched a stellar game in Friday’s 2-1 loss to the Cardinal, going seven innings and giving up just one run on two hits while striking out seven. Krook is currently second in the Conference in opposing batting average, with opponents hitting just .149 against him. 
 
Oregon State (21-6, 6-3) 
After suffering their first series loss on the season the week before, the Beavers rebounded to pick up another series win by taking two of three on the road at Arizona. The offense and pitching staff found its groove in the two wins on Friday and Sunday, outscoring the Wildcats 22-2 in those victories. Since Feb. 21-22, OSU has gone 17-4, including winning 10-straight during one stretch. The series win was huge for the Beavers as it allowed them to keep pace with in-state foe Oregon and defending national Champion UCLA as all three own a 6-3 Conference record and sit in a three-way tie for second place. OSU remains ranked in the top-10 in every major poll, coming in at No. 6 in three of the four. Junior lefty Jace Fry  was stellar in helping the Beavers to secure Sunday’s rubber match victory as he went 7.0 scoreless innings, giving up just one hit and striking out five en route to being named Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week for the second time this season. Fry is part of an excellent OSU pitching staff, who own three of the top five spots atop the Conference in ERA, led by senior Ben Wetzler at 0.47, followed by Scott Shultz (4th, 1.70) and Fry (5th, 1.81).   
 
Stanford (10-11, 3-3) 
The Cardinal stole a huge Conference series win at home over the weekend as they hosted then-top-10 ranked Oregon in a Friday double-header and Sunday matinee weekend capper. Due to fear of a rain-out the Cardinal and Ducks played two on Friday to open the series, and the Cardinal nabbed both to pick up their first series win in league play and second series win over a ranked opponent in 2014. After a 6-3 win in game one, Stanford used an impressive effort from Cal Quantrill and John Hochstatter, who together held the Ducks to one run on eight total hits and 10 strikeouts, to nab a 2-1 extra inning victory in game two. Although Sunday’s loss became a route, it was an overall solid weekend for the pitching staff, who gave up just four runs in the two wins on Friday. As a team, Stanford’s 3.26 ERA is fourth in the Conference while oppoents are hitting .234 against them--also good for fourth in the league. The offense has been solid, with four regular starters with batting averages over .300--led by third baseman Alex Blandino at (.324) and Austin Slater (.333). In its ten wins this season, Stanford has outscored opponents 69-26.
 
UCLA (16-10, 6-3) 
The top-30-ranked Bruins went 2-2 over the week; unfortuantely the two losses came against Pac-12 oppoent Arizona State, marking UCLA’s first Conference-series loss of 2014. Despite the slight setback,  there seems to be little to worry to about as they have won nine of their last 12 and sit in a three-way second-place tie with Oregon State and Oregon. Sophomore right-hander James Kaprielian had a career-outing in Friday’s 7-3 win over the Sun Devils as he gave up three runs on six hits over 6.0 innings of work and struck out a career-high 12 batters. Leading the offense last week was senior infielder Kevin Williams, who went 8-for-14 (.571) in the four games with on on-base percentage of .647 and a slugging percentage of .714. He had a hand in both wins over the week as his 3-for-3 night sparked the offense in Friday night’s Conference win while his RBI in the third inning against Long Beach State proved to be the game winner in a 2-1 victory over the Dirtbags.
 
USC (13-13, 3-6) 
The Trojans’ up-and-down March continued last week, thanks in large part to a weekend series matchup with one of the hottest teams in the country in Pac-12 foe Washington. The week started off solid with a 4-2 victory over Loyola Marymount, but things went sour over the weekend as they became the Huskies’ second-straight sweep victim. It was a rough series for Trojan hitters and pitchers alike, as the offense managed nine runs over three games while the pitching staff gave up 35 runs to the red-hot Huskies. Regardless of the recent setbacks, the Trojans have three regular starters hitting over .300 in Kevin Swick (.340), Jake Hernandez (.324) and Garrett Stubbs (.311). Kyle Davis has paced the bullpen for USC, making 11 appearances and posting a 0.47 ERA, one win and two saves in 19.1 innings in relief.    
 
Utah (9-17, 0-9) 
The Utes continue to hang tough in games despite continuing to come out on the short end. Nine of Utah’s losses have come by two runs or less, including all four losses this past week. The offense had a solid week, scoring 16 runs in four games, including seven in the series finale on Sunday. Junior right-hander Mitch Watrous has been a bright spot on the Utes’ pitching staff, posting 36 strikeouts on the year in 43.0 innings pitched, good for sixth and 10th in the Conference, respectively. Freshman outfielder Max Schuman and senior infielder TJ Bennett are at the forefront of the Utes’ offense, hitting .265 and .236, respectively. The pair have combined for 39 hits and 16 RBI on the year. 
 
Washington (20-5-1, 8-1) 
Washington is one of the hottest teams in the country and now sits alone atop the Pac-12 after picking up its second-consecutive Conference sweep at USC over the weekend. The Huskies--winners of their last 10 and 17 of 18--jumped into all four major polls this week, with the highest ranking coming at No. 11 in Collegiate Baseball’s top-30 while its No. 14 ranking in Baseball America is its first appearance in that poll since 2006 and highest since 2005. UW started off the week with a 7-1 pounding of Gonzaga at home and the winning just continued in L.A. over the weekend. An already potent offense exploded this week for 42 runs in four games, including a 19-4 beatdown of the Trojans on Saturday. Senior outfielder/first baseman and reigning Pac-12 Player of the Week Brian Wolfe picked up right where he left off, going 7-of-12 (.583) with two home runs, 10 RBI and six runs scored to repeat as the Pac-12 weekly award winner--the third-consecutive week a Husky has earned the honor and the first time a UW position player has won the award in consecutive weeks since 2008. As a whole, the Washington offense has proven to be one of the best in the Pac-12 so far this year, ranking in the top three in every major category, inlcuding second in batting average (.298), first in slugging percentage (.422) and third in on-base percentage (.382), runs scored (165), hits (261) and runs batted in (150). The Huskies’ slugging percentage mark also ranks 22nd in the nation.  
 
Washington State  (12-13, 3-3) 
The Cougars continued to ride a recent upswing over the week as they took three of four at home over San Jose State during their break from Conference action. After dropping game one of the series, WSU responded with three-straight wins, outscoring San Jose State 32-14 in those victories. The Cougs have now won eight of their last 12 and are hovering right below .500 overall and right at that mark in Pac-12 play. Redshirt sophomore Ben Roberts has emerged as an offensive threat for WSU, hitting .338 in 21 games played, while Yale Rosen and Nick Tanielu continue to deliver at plate, hitting .363 and .323 and recording 33 and 31 hits on the season, respectively, to lead the team. Closer Ian Hamilton has been stellar for WSU, leading the Conference with nine saves on the year, which is also tied for third in the nation.
 
 
 
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