Baseball Weekend Roundup

It was an entertaining weekend of baseball out at Sunken Diamond. The Oregon State Beavers notched a pair of comeback victories on Saturday before the Cardinal answered with a 4-3 win on Sunday afternoon. Read on for an in-depth review of the series plus all of the latest from around the Pac-10. In addition, check out an updated "Super Sixteen."

Pac-10 Standings  (records through games of Sun. 4/10)

                    Conf. GB  Overall
Arizona              8-1   -   24-10
Oregon State         5-1  1.5  26-5
USC                  6-3  2.0  21-9
Stanford             4-2  2.5  19-11
California           5-4  3.0  23-13
Arizona State        3-3  3.5  22-15
Washington           2-4  4.5  21-13
UCLA                 0-6  6.5   7-21
Washington State     0-9  8.0  16-20

The series of the week certainly lived up to its billing as the Oregon State Beavers took 2-of-3 from the Stanford Cardinal in Palo Alto.  The Beavers took the first two games, 9-7 and 11-10 before the Cardinal came back to win the finale by a 4-3 score.  All of the three games could have gone either way as both proved they are two of the very best in the conference.  For Oregon State, it was a huge series win as they move one game ahead of the Cardinal in the loss column - tied with Arizona.

Speaking of the Wildcats, Arizona swept away Washington State up in Pullman.  It wasn't always easy for the Cats as they took the middle contest by a 7-4 score before rallying from a big deficit in the series finale to eventually win 13-10.  But a series sweep, no matter the competition, is still something to cheer about it.  For Arizona, they've racked up an 8-1 record against arguably the three worst teams in the conference - Washington (2-1), at UCLA (3-0), at WSU (3-0).  Now comes the meat of their Pac-10 schedule.

California picked up a huge series win in Berkeley as they took 2-of-3 from the previously surging Arizona State Sun Devils.  The Bears scored twice in the bottom of the ninth inning on Sunday afternoon for a 4-3 win.  ASU's recent hot streak had them thinking about contending for the Pac-10 title, but this was no doubt a setback.  Meanwhile, the Bears continue to be very much in the hunt for a berth in the NCAA Tournament - would be their first since 2001.

Finally, USC thumped UCLA at Dedeaux Field increasing the Bruins' school-record losing streak to 17 games.  UCLA appears to be mailing it in as the Trojans outscored their rival by a staggering 26-1 margin in the three games.  For the Trojans, that's now a pair of series wins in a row since dropping 2-of-3 at home to Arizona State to open the conference slate.

In non-conference action, Washington won 2-of-3 at UC Riverside.  The Huskies certainly needed this series win although it ended on a sour note as they were handed a 14-1 defeat in the finale on Sunday.

It should be another exciting weekend upcoming in the Pac-10 with a couple of big-time matchups down in Arizona.  Headlining the list is an Oregon State-Arizona tilt in Tucson.  If the Beavers are able to pull off back-to-back series wins at Stanford and at Arizona, they may not be able to be stopped on the way to a conference championship.  For the Wildcats, they've certainly done their part against the weaker competition in the conference and now they want to show they are truly the top team in the Pac-10 as the standings would indicate.  This is the ultimate hitting versus pitching matchup.  Oregon State boasts the top pitching staff in the Pac-10 while Arizona has the top team batting average.

The other matchup in the desert will see Stanford take on Arizona State down in Tempe.  The Sun Devils are in need of a bounce back weekend after their losses to California in the final two games of their series in the Bay Area.  If ASU doesn't manage at least two wins this weekend, they're essentially out of contention for the Pac-10 title.  Meanwhile, the Cardinal will try to build on the momentum of their series finale win over Oregon State as they continue their quest for a third straight Pac-10 title.

The only other Pac-10 series pits the two teams likely to finish the year "on the bubble" against each other.  California travels up north to take on the Washington Huskies in a series without Pac-10 title implications, but still a very important three-game set for these clubs.  If the Bears are able to garner back-to-back series victories over ASU and UW, they'll be looking good for an NCAA Tournament bid at the midpoint of the conference season.  The Huskies are still looking for their first Pac-10 series win.

UCLA will try to end their incredible losing streak when they host UC Santa Barbara for three games.  The Gauchos were just swept by UC Davis, so if the Bruins don't win at least once this weekend, their losing streak could reach epic proportions. 

USC and Washington State have the weekend off.

This Weekend:
* Stanford at Arizona State
* Oregon State at Arizona
* California at Washington
UC Santa Barbara at UCLA

Oregon State Series Review

It was certainly an entertaining series out at Sunken Diamond this past weekend.  All three games were toss-ups in the late innings with Oregon State winning both contests on Saturday and the Cardinal taking the finale on Sunday.  Stanford had golden opportunities to win both games of the doubleheader as they carried a 7-5 lead into the eighth inning in the first contest.  While in the nightcap, Stanford burst out to a 9-2 lead after three innings only to see their advantage evaporate.  To their credit, after two demoralizing losses, the Cardinal bounced back nicely with a 4-3 win on Sunday.  Stanford was facing an outstanding pitcher in Jonah Nickerson (with his 6-0 record and 1.16 ERA) while they countered with their third starter on the mound, yet still found a way to win.

Surprisingly, the Cardinal bullpen really failed them in the first two games of the series.  Although some of the runs weren't officially charged to him, Blake Holler was the man on the hill in the fateful top of the eighth Saturday afternoon when the Beavers struck for three scores to take the lead.  Holler has been a rock in the late innings for Stanford this season, but struggled on this day.  Once they had the lead, OSU turned the ball over to their dynamic duo out of the bullpen in Kevin Gunderson and Nate Fogle.  The two combined for five scoreless innings with just one hit allowed in the doubleheader on Saturday.

The Cardinal bullpen struggles continued in the nightcap as Greg Reynolds couldn't hold a three-run lead in the seventh inning.  Reynolds was rolling along nicely, but a couple of walks and a couple of pretty cheap hits started the rally.  The Beavers had outstanding clutch hitting all day Saturday and it was never more evident in that inning against Reynolds as they rallied for three straight singles with two outs to tie the game at 10-10.  Then a two-base wild pitch on a strike three breaking ball from new pitcher Nolan Gallagher (on what would have been the third out) allowed the eventual winning run to score for an 11-10 OSU lead.  It was just that kind of day for Stanford - even when one of their pitchers manages a huge strike out, the Beavers still found a way to score a run.

Oregon State plays a brand of baseball similar to that of many of the past Cal State Fullerton teams.  Not necessarily a lot of home run power threats, but plenty of high average, tough to strike out players.  They do an outstanding job of moving runners over and laying down bunts.  And outside of Preseason All-American Jacoby Ellsbury (with his .450 batting average), there aren't any stars in the lineup.  Combine that with a couple of dominant starting pitchers, a pair of shutdown relievers in the late innings, and stellar defense (for the most part, as Sunday's game showed us) and it's not hard to see why Oregon State is 26-5 on the season.  And for the Cardinal, they were oh so close to a series win or even a sweep.

Unfortunately, however, it was not a sweep.  The theme of the now completed first half of the season has to be the amazing amount of close losses this team has endured.  Consider that of their 11 losses, nine of them were by two runs or less.  And seven of those losses came to Oregon State, Cal State Fullerton, and Texas.  The Cardinal have shown they can clearly play with elite competition (Texas and Fullerton are ranked #1 and #2 in the country respectively), but have struggled to find a way to win the close ones.  You just hope that the experience pays off in June and that things even out in the luck department when the games really start to matter. 

One obvious positive from this weekend was the way Stanford swung the bats over the first 1 1/2 games.  OSU ace hurler Dallas Buck took a sub-1.00 ERA into his start on Saturday afternoon only to see the Cardinal light him up for seven runs on 11 hits in seven innings.  Production from the bottom of the lineup continued as Chris Lewis blasted a grand slam in the fourth inning.  Buck has the top numbers of any starting pitcher in college baseball and the Cardinal hitters made him look awfully ordinary.

The first few innings of the nightcap also saw Stanford blast another Beaver starting pitcher.  Anton Maxwell was shelled to the tune of nine runs in 2 1/3 innings as the Cardinal jumped out to their big early lead.  Oregon State features the top pitching staff in the conference and Stanford was taking them to the cleaners in the first 12 innings of the series (16 runs on 19 hits).  John Hester had a huge series with the bat with three multi-hit games en route to a 6-for-10, HR, 4 RBI effort.  Hester's season average now sits at .302.  Jim Rapoport continued to do his thing getting on base at an impressive rate.  Rapoport still leads the club in batting average (.362).  Michael Taylor, who had hits in all three games, appears to have settled in nicely into the #6 spot in the lineup.  Taylor's batting average has reached an even .300.  Finally, Jed Lowrie may have gone homerless, but he did come through with the game-winning hit in the seventh inning on Sunday with a line drive RBI single into right center to break the 3-3 tie.

The bullpen was also spectacular on Sunday.  Holler regained his touch with a brilliant 3 2/3 inning stint on the mound.  The sophomore lefty allowed just two hits with no runs and four strike outs.  He was credited the win to improve to 6-1 on the season.  Also, Matt Manship continued his hot streak out of the 'pen.  Manship dazzled in the eighth and ninth innings retiring all four batters he faced - two via the strike out - to end the game.  Manship, along with Holler and Gallagher (2 1/3 no-hit innings with four K's in the Saturday nightcap) have seemed to emerge as the late inning relievers for Mark Marquess.  Manship still boasts a perfect 0.00 ERA over 11 1/3 innings.

Finally, it was a tough weekend for the top two starting pitchers.  Mark Romanczuk had a strange outing on Saturday afternoon, to say the least.  The southpaw was hammered in the first two innings yielding five runs on four hits.  But he then flipped the switch apparently as the Beavers managed just one hit with no runs over the next five innings.  Romanczuk allowed two runs in the eighth although the base runners were the product of an error and a bloop single.  If Romanczuk can somehow find a way to throw anywhere close to how he looked in those middle five innings, he would be the dominant starting pitcher Stanford could use for the second half of the season.

Jeff Gilmore endured the worst start of his season on Saturday evening.  Gilmore wasn't fooling anyone as the Beavers touched him up for seven runs on a whopping 12 hits in four-plus innings.  At one point, six straight OSU hitters reached base safely against Gilmore.  Hopefully it was "just one of those days" for Gilmore.  Meanwhile, Matt Leva was hardly dominating on Sunday (10 hits surrendered), but he did enough.  The #3 starter allowed just two earned runs with five strike outs over four innings before Holler came on and dealt.

Of note, with Sunday's win, the Cardinal avoided being swept at home in a regular season, three-game series for the first time since April, 1997 (ASU).  That's a remarkable string of 59 consecutive series'.

"Super Sixteen"

                        Record   Pvs.
1. Texas                 29-6     1
* Longhorns record big 2-of-3 series win at Nebraska to remain in top spot.

2. CS Fullerton          23-8     2
* Titans lose midweek game to Loyola Marymount, but respond with easy sweep of lowly CS Northridge over the weekend (outscored the Matadors 43-2).

3. Tulane                29-5     3
* Green Wave continue to roll in Conference USA as they sweep Charlotte.

4. Florida               25-8     5
* Gators tied with South Carolina for SEC East lead (Florida has a series win over the Gamecocks) ... won 2-of-3 at Georgia over the weekend.

5. Oregon State          26-5     6
* Beavers remain hot with 2-of-3 series win at Stanford.

6. Arizona               24-10    8
* Wildcats go up north and sweep away Washington State.

7. South Carolina        28-5    11
* Gamecocks catching fire as they notch impressive three-game sweep of LSU in Baton Rouge.

8. Georgia Tech          26-7     9
* Jackets take a break from ACC play with 2-of-3 series win over visiting Winthrop.

9. Miami                 27-9    12
* Hurricanes record sweep at Virginia Tech ... Miami still one game behind North Carolina and two games behind Georgia Tech in ACC race.

10. Stanford             19-11   10
* Cardinal break even last week (1-0 vs. Santa Clara, 1-2 vs. Oregon State).

11. Mississippi          22-10    4
* Rebels take a tumble after midweek loss to Southern Miss and 2-of-3 series defeat at home to Alabama (second straight SEC series loss).

12. Long Beach State     24-11   14
* Dirtbags knock off UCLA in midweek tilt before 2-of-3 series win at UC Irvine over the weekend.

13. North Carolina       27-6    13
* Tar Heels blown out by Elon at home in midweek game before sweeping lowly Maryland.

14. LSU                  23-11    7
* Tigers now just 5-7 in SEC play after getting swept at home by South Carolina.

15. Arkansas             27-6    15
* Hogs take three straight from visiting Vanderbilt in closely contested series.

16. Baylor               22-12   16
* Bears lose big versus Houston on Tuesday before weekend sweep of last-place Kansas State.

Dropped Out: none

On Deck

The Cardinal return to action on Tuesday evening with a single non-conference game against the San Francisco Dons.  First pitch at Sunken Diamond is scheduled for 6:00pm.  The Dons may be the top Tuesday opponent for Stanford this season as they currently sit at 23-11 on the season (8-4 in WCC play).  In terms of common opponents with the Cardinal, USF is 3-0 versus Santa Clara, 1-3 versus Pacific, 2-0 versus Fresno State, 1-0 versus Sacramento State, and 0-1 versus Cal.  Their strength is certainly pitching with a dazzling 2.64 team ERA.  Closer Patrick McGuigan has a 1.03 ERA in 35 innings with five saves.

This weekend, it's a matchup in Tempe with the Arizona State Sun Devils.  The games on Friday and Saturday are both scheduled for 6:30pm while Sunday's series finale will get underway at 1:00pm.

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