Tight race on top in Pac-12 baseball

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WASHINGTON--a team picked to finish 10 out of 11--has a proved that it is a true contender for the Conference title as they maintain a one-game lead over league-favorite and defending champion OREGON STATE heading into the second half of league play. Both teams continue to put pressure on the other as they match each other’s momentum, each taking two of three over Pac-12 opponents over the weekend. While there is still a lot of season left the play, the Huskies and Beavers have been impressive and the title race is shaping up to be a close one through the finish. A cluster of teams behind the league leaders aren’t far removed, however, led by a resurgent ARIZONA STATE team that is just two games out of second and three out of first. OREGON--winners of six in a row--share a fourth-place tie with UCLA and WASHINGTON STATE while USC and ARIZONA sit three games back behind those three. It was another good week in the rankings for Pac-12 Baseball, who have three teams--Oregon State, Oregon, and Washington-- unanimously ranked in the four major polls. ARIZONA STATE marks the fourth team to garner rankings this week, coming in at No. 27 in Collegiate Baseball’s Top-30. Meanwhile, UW and Oregon State both climbed in Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball’s Top-10, with the Huskies coming in at No. 7 and 6, respectively, while the Beavers hold the No. 5 spot in both. The rankings are the highest in Washington baseball history in those polls. Three teams will partake in non-conference midweek matchups on Tuesday before Conference-play resumes on a shifted Thursday-Saturday schedule this week. Hosting league games this weekend are CALIFORNIA (vs. Washington), Oregon (vs. Washington State), USC (vs. Arizona), and Utah (vs. UCLA). Oregon State has the weekend off and will resume play on Monday with a contest at Sacramento State. Five games will be broadcasted live on Pac-12 Networks, starting with UCLA at Utah matchup on Thursday night at 5 p.m. MT and wrapping up Saturday night with an Arizona/USC showdown at 7 p.m. PT.     

Tuesday, April 15
St. Mary’s (California) at Stanford (Live Stream), 5:30 p.m. PT
Washington State at Gonzaga, 6:00 p.m. PT
UNLV at #27 Arizona State (Live Stream), 6:30 p.m. PT
Thursday, April 17
UCLA at Utah*, 5:00 p.m. MT (P12N)
#27 Arizona State at Stanford*(Live Stream), 6:00 p.m. PT
Washington State at #23/10 Oregon* (Live Stream), 6:00 p.m. PT
Arizona at USC*, 7:00 p.m. PT (P12N)
#7/6 Washington at California*, 7:00 p.m. PT
Friday, April 18
UCLA at Utah*, 5:00 p.m. MT (P12N)
Washington State at #23/10 Oregon* (Live Stream), 6:00 p.m. PT
#27 Arizona State at Stanford* (Live Stream), 6:00 p.m. PT
Arizona at USC*, 7:00 p.m. PT (P12N)
#7/6 Washington at California*, 7:00 p.m. PT
Saturday, April 19
UCLA at Utah* (Live Stream), 12:00 p.m. MT
#7/6 Washington at California*, 1:00 p.m. PT
#27 Arizona State at Stanford*, (Live Stream) 1:00 p.m. PT
Washington State at #23/10 Oregon*, (Live Stream) 2:00 p.m. PT
Arizona at USC*, 7:00 p.m. PT (P12N)
Monday, April 21
# 5/5 Oregon State at Sacramento State, 6:30 p.m. PT
Games are local to site and subject to change. 
Rankings are from Baseball America/Collegiate Baseball. *Conference games
Arizona (17-20, 6-9) 
After a tough stretch through March in which the team lost eight straight, the Wildcats have improved as of late, winning five of their last six in a stretch that included two-consecutive Conference series wins. Arizona started the week with a grinding 10-9 win over cross-state rival Arizona State in a non-conference matchup, then took two of three at home over top-25 ranked UCLA to pick up its biggest Conference series win of the season. Sunday’s rubbermatch was capped by a walkoff single by Kevin Newman in the bottom of the ninth to win 6-5 and secure the series. The offense continues to be a strong suit as it ranks near the top of the Conference in every major offensive statistical category, including batting average (.299, 1st), slugging percentage (.394, 4th), on-base pct (.382, 3rd), runs scored (234, t-2nd), hits (380, 1st) and runs batted in (189, 3rd). As a team, the Wildcats rank tied for 24th nationally in batting average and tied for 18th in hits. Individually, Arizona has three hitters in the top-11 in batting average in the Pac-12, led by Scott Kingery’s .390 average, which is good for third. 
Arizona State (19-14, 9-6)  
ASU has found a midseason groove after some struggles in early March as the No. 27-ranked Sun Devils--according to Collegiate Baseball- notched their fourth-consecutive Conference series win and have now won nine of their last 13. After losing a close 10-9 contest to Arizona on Wednesday, ASU wasted no time securing the series at home as they won games one (3-2) and two (4-1) over the Bears.  It wasn’t an easy series, however, as two of the three games went to extra frames, with California nabbing the series finale on Sunday 5-3. Junior right-handed pitcher turned in his best performance of his three-year career in the game, throwing a career-long seven scoreless innings and tied his season-high of six strikeouts. Offensively, the Sun Devils have been solid as they rank No. 2 in the Pac-12 in slugging percentage (.395) and No. 3 in batting average (.294) and total hits (338). 
California (15-17, 4-8)
The Bears notched their seventh win over a ranked team in the series finale on Sunday at Arizona State, pulling out the come-from-behind 5-3 victory in 10 innings. Cal avoided a second-straight sweep with the win, and just barely missed on another road win as the series opener also went to ten innings in a 3-2 loss for the Bears. Losing 12 of their last 17 is in part to facing a tough schedule with more than half their games thus far against ranked teams. Despite the recent setbacks, the Bears’ pitching staff has continued to be solid, ranking sixth in the Pac-12 with a 3.57 ERA and opposing batting average (.257). The offense is led by Brenden Farney and Derek Campbell, who are hitting at a .329 and .267 clip, respectively. Campbell’s five home runs remain tops for an individual player in the Pac-12.   
Oregon (28-10, 7-5) 
The Ducks--who now sit in a three-way tie for fourth in the Conference--have responded well after two-consecutive Conference road series losses, winning six in a row and 10 of their last 12 while continuing to be ranked in the top-25 in every major poll. In a break from Pac-12 play, Oregon swept Portland in a midweek series, then followed with a weekend home sweep of UC Riverside. They capped the week with a 4-3 win over top-30 ranked San Diego on Monday. Sophomore infielder Mitchell Tolman was the Ducks’ star in the undefeated week, going 9-for-15 (.600) in five games with six RBI, five runs scored and two doubles en route to earning his first-career Pac-12 Player of the Week honors. The Oregon pitching staff has been the headliners this season, recording a 2.89 ERA--good for third in the Pac-12--and a Conference-best .217 opposing batting average and 308 batters struck out. Freshman lefty Matt Krook leads the way with a 1.79 ERA this season, good for sixth in the Conference.
Oregon State (27-7, 11-4) 
The Beavers have returned to their winning ways after losing three of four in late March, winning seven of their last eight to stay in second-place and creep back within one game of Conference-leader Washington. Over the weekend, the Beavers responded from a game one loss at Washington State on Friday to take games two and three to secure another Conference series victory. OSU remains ranked in the top-5 in every major poll, with its highest ranking of No. 3 in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches Top 25 poll. Numbers-wise, the Beavers have an impressive combination of offense, defense and pitching firepower. The offense is ranked in the top-5 of the Conference in every major category, including first in on-base percentage (.394) and runs batted in (197) and second in runs scored (216). While the defense owns a Conference-best .979 fielding percentage, the excellent pitching staff ranks first in the Pac-12 as a team in ERA (2.20) and owns three of the top five individual spots atop the Conference in the same category, led by senior Ben Wetzler, who is first in the Pac-12 in ERA at 0.69 and opposing batting average (.129). The weekend rotation of Wetzler, Moore and Fry have recorded a 1.72 ERA, which is the third-best weekend rotation in the nation. 
Stanford (12-16, 4-8) 
Stanford has faced one of the toughest stretches in Conference play as any Pac-12 team as they have had three straight league series vs foes ranked in the top-11 in the country, including the last two straight on the road. While they picked up a huge series win over Oregon at home to start the stretch, the last two series against Conference leaders Oregon State and Washington haven’t been so kind. The Cardinal did manage to avoid the sweep at Washington with a a 6-3 win in the finale on Sunday. Junior left-hander John Hochstatter gave up three runs on five hits and seven strikeouts to record his fourth win of the year in that game. His 2.84 ERA is currently fourth-best on the team. As a staff, Stanford’s 3.57 ERA is sixth in the Conference while opponents are hitting .257 against them--also good for sixth in the league. The offense has been solid, with three regular starters with batting averages over .300--led by third baseman Alex Blandino at (.320) and Austin Slater (.306). In its 12 wins this season, Stanford has outscored opponents 82-35.
UCLA (19-15, 7-5) 
The Bruins have hit a bit of a midseason slump, losing seven of its last ten after a stretch in which the team won nine of 10. The week started with a close 4-3 loss to top-20 ranked Cal State Fullerton, then UCLA headed to the desert for a showdown between the last two national champions. An 8-0 opening game win for the Bruins looked promising, but Saturday and Sunday ended in heartbreakers as UCLA lost a pair of one-run games, including a walk-off loss on the series rubbermatch on Sunday. A bright spot of the week was right-hander James Kaprielian, who turned in a brilliant performance for a third-consecutive start, tossing seven shutout innings on Friday to record his fifth win in 2014. The sophomore has not allowed a run in his last 21 innings pitched and in his last three starts he is 2-0 with a 0.82 ERA and 19 strikeouts. Kaprilian has recorded a team-high 61 strikeouts in 61.1 innings pitched, good for second and fourth in the Pac-12, respectively. As a team the Bruin pitching staff owns the second-best ERA in the Pac-12 at 2.83. All-American closer David Berg has been impressive with nine saves in 25 appearances.
USC (17-17, 6-9) 
After starting the season on a hot streak, the Trojans have struggled to maintain consistency through the middle part of the season, but did pull out their second Conference series win of the season at home over Utah over the weekend. Despite opening the week with consecutive narrow losses to No. 24 Pepperdine (4-3) and to the Utes in the series opener on Friday (3-2), the Trojans finished the week strong with victories on Saturday (3-2) and Sunday (13-2). Trojans senior Jake Hernandez led the offensive explosion on Sunday, going 3-for-4 with two runs scored and one RBI as USC tallied a season-high 19 hits. Regardless of the recent setbacks, the Trojans still sit at .500 overall and have four starters hitting over .300 in Hernandez (.354), Jeremy Martinez (.313), Kevin Swick (.307) and Garrett Stubbs (.306). Sophomore righty Brent Wheatley had an oustanding week, pitching 10.1 innings in two starts, giving up just three runs on seven hits while picking up his third win of the season.    
Utah (11-21, 2-13) 
While Utah dropped another Conference series over the weekend on the road at USC, the team did pick up its second Conference win in a close 3-2 victory in 13 innings in the series opener on Friday against the Trojans. The team also fell just two runs short of picking up its third on Saturday. The Utes continue to hang tough in games despite continuing to come out on the short end with 10 of their losses coming by two runs or less. In Friday’s win senior left-hander Nick Green went five shutout innings, giving up just four hits and striking out four. Sophomore outfielder Wyler Smith and senior infielder TJ Bennett are at the forefront of the Utes’ offense, hitting .231 and .282, respectively. The pair have combined for 56 hits and 25 RBI on the year. 
Washington (25-7-1, 12-3) 
The Huskies have yet to lose a Conference series in 2014 as they recorded a second-straight home series win after taking games one and two over Stanford over the weekend. With the wins, UW continues to sit alone at the top of the Conference standings with a 12-3 record, but the Beavers are lurking close behind just one game back. Since consecutive losses on Feb. 21-22, the Huskies have gone 24-3, including a stretch of 10 wins in a row. UW continued climbing all four major polls this week, with the highest rankings coming at No. 6 in Collegiate Baseball’s top-30 and No. 7 in Baseball America top-25. Both rankings are the highest in Washington baseball program history in those polls. No other poll ranks them lower than 15th. Washington is having a stellar season on both sides of the ball as they own the Conference’s best slugging percentage mark (.414) in addition to the second-best batting average (.299) and on-base perecentage (.385). As a pitching staff, they rank fourth in the Pac-12 in ERA (3.25) and fifth in opposing batting average (.251), while the team’s fielding percentage of .978 is second in the Conference and 15th in the nation.
Washington State  (16-16, 7-5) 
Despite dropping two of three to Oregon State over the weekend and three of four on the week, the Cougars find themselves in a three-way tie for fourth place in the Pac-12 after an up-and-down pre-league play slate. Junior left-hander Joe Pistorese turned in the best performance of the week for the Cougars as he pitched his second-straight complete game to lead WSU past No. 5 OSU in the series opener at home on Friday. In the 4-1 win, he limited the high-powered Beaver offense to just one run on four hits while striking out four. He became the first Cougar to hurl back-to-back complete games since Adam Conley in 2011 and the first to have three complete games in a season since Chad Arnold in 2010. For his performance, Pistorese was named Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week. After Yale Rosen earned the Player of the Week honors the previous week, the honor marked the first time since 1996 that Cougar players had won Conference weekly honors in consecutive weeks. Closer Ian Hamilton has also been stellar for WSU, leading the Conference with 10 saves on the year, which is also tied for fifth in the nation.
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