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Spring has sprung as baseball returns to Pac-12 Network

Mar 26, 2021

At times, 2020 felt like a long never-ending winter, but baseball has always signaled the true beginning of spring. So as baseball returns to Pac-12 Network on Friday, March 26 with a triple-header, here's a look at some of the top programs in the Conference.

After missing almost the entire 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Pac-12 baseball teams are off to a scorching start in 2021. Pac-12 programs have combined for an outstanding .643 winning percentage through the first series of conference games. 

Stanford has gotten off to a particularly hot start thanks in-part to the dominance of outfielder Brock Jones. Earlier this season, Jones was named one of Collegiate Baseball’s Players of the Week for his otherworldly performance in the Cardinal’s four-game sweep of USF. Jones hit .444 with two doubles, a triple and three home runs. He has barely cooled down since then. The sophomore leads Stanford in home runs (seven), RBIs (19) and runs (13), as the Cardinal has cruised to a Pac-12-best 12-3 overall record.

Perennial powerhouse Oregon State has played to a 14-5 overall record so far this season. The Beavers were the College World Series champions in 2018 and no doubt have national ambitions once again. Kevin Abel was a force for that championship team, throwing a two-hit shutout in the clinching game and later earning Baseball American Freshman of the Year honors. But Abel missed the following two seasons after undergoing Tommy John surgery and is only now getting back on the mound. Abel is showing flashes of his freshman-year dominance, blanking Grand Canyon over five innings and racking up 11 strikeouts to earn Pac-12 Player of the Week honors in early March.

Across the State, the Oregon Ducks are building a powerhouse led by a trio of dominant starting pitchers. Peyton Fuller (1-0 with a 2.89 ERA) or Robert Ahlstrom (1-1 with a 2.12 ERA) could be the ace of most rotations. But Cullen Kafka (2-0 with a 0.43 ERA) has been nearly perfect this year, having allowed just one earned run in 21 innings. The Ducks will face Arizona in their first conference road series that begins Friday at 7 p.m. PT / 8 p.m. MT on Pac-12 Oregon & the Pac-12 Now app.

The Wildcats are also off to a tremendous start thanks to the bat of Jacob Berry. The No. 3 ranked prospect in the state of Arizona coming out of high school, the true freshman chose to stay local for college with the Wildcats. Berry leads Arizona in nearly every offensive category including average (.400), home runs (six), doubles (seven) and triples (two). A 10-game win streak early in the season has Arizona sitting pretty at 14-6. 

Ranked the No. 2 team in the country prior to the start of the season, it is clear that UCLA has its eyes set on a deep postseason run in 2021. The Bruins’ national standing has fallen slightly since the start of the season but they are still considered by many media outlets to be the top-team in the Pac-12 and one of the top teams overall. Jesse Bergin has been particularly dominant on the mound. The junior has averaged nearly a strikeout per inning while posting a 2.77 ERA en route to a 3-1 record. Bergin was named the Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week for the week of February 21st after allowing just one hit over 6.2 shutout innings in his season debut vs. USF.

The Bruins will take on crosstown rival USC as part of Pac-12 Networks’ triple-header on Friday at 7 p.m. PT / 8 p.m. MT. USC is a perfect 3-0 in conference play this season so the rivalry series will determine first place in the standings. 

After finishing near the bottom of the standings in the past four completed seasons, Washington State seems to have turned a corner this year. In his second season (2020 cut short due to COVID-19), Head Coach Brian Green has the Cougars off to their hottest starts in recent memory. Washington State has gone 12-5 (1-2 in conference), tied for the fourth-best overall record in the Pac-12 so far. 

As a top-10 team last year, the Sun Devils were in an excellent position to make their first College World Series appearance since 2010 before the season was abruptly shut down last March. They will have their work cut out for them now that Spencer Torkelson, last year’s No. 1 overall pick in Major League Baseball's draft has departed for the Detroit Tigers organization. If anyone can fill the shoes of Torkelson, it appears to be slugging second baseman Sean McLain. The redshirt freshman has dominated in his first real action this year to lead the Sun Devils in homers (four), extra base hits (11) and slugging percentage (.764) all while currently riding a 15-game hit streak for ASU.

The first game on Friday’s slate will be between Cal (12-7, 0-0) and Utah (4-11, 1-2) on Pac-12 Mountain & the Pac-12 Now app. Viewers will get to see Dylan Beavers, who co-leads all Pac-12 players with seven home runs, in his first conference action. First pitch is scheduled for 4 p.m. PT / 5 p.m. MT from Salt Lake City. 

Don’t miss the action as spring truly gets underway on Pac-12 Network this weekend!