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Thorpe proves he's Friday night guy

EUGENE -- A year ago, he was a set-up guy. Six weeks ago, he was a Saturday starter.

On Friday night at PK Park, Tommy Thorpe looked every bit the ace of the Oregon pitching staff.

The sophomore left-hander from Vancouver's Evergreen High pitched the game of his life, shutting out Oregon State on two hits for eight innings in a 3-0 victory.

"Going out there and throwing a shutout is awesome," the 6-foot, 185-pound Thorpe told the media throng afterward. "Couldn't ask for more."

The win was the ninth straight for 10th-ranked Oregon (42-11 overall, 20-5 in Pac-12 play) and moved the Ducks into a tie with the sixth-ranked Beavers (41-9, 20-5) atop the conference standings with five games to play. It snapped OSU's 12-game win streak.

The Ducks jumped to a 3-0 lead after two innings, then rode the wave of Thorpe's dominant pitching to draw first blood in the most critical three-game series in the Pac-12 this season.

Over the past three years, the conference series between the rivals has been a home sweep -- by Oregon State in 2010 and '12 and by Oregon in '11. Coach George Horton, however. isn't counting his Ducks before they're hatched.

"It's just one," Oregon coach George Horton said. "We're not going to be immature about that. (The Beavers') body of work is impressive. They're going to come back.

"We have a lot more work to do to see if we can get at least one more win this series. It's nice to be the team that wins on Friday, though."

The Beavers couldn't touch Thorpe, who threw 92 pitches in eight-plus innings and was ahead of hitters the entire way, using his fastball, curveball and slider to near-perfection.

Or at least it seemed that way.

"The results were really good," Horton said. "He was really good with both breaking balls.

"Early, Tommy overthrew his fastball occasionally and didn't locate it real well and got away with it on a couple of pitches. Then (the Beavers) switched gears and were going to be more aggressive (at the plate). In the middle innings, he actually located his fastball very well -- just in the nick of time."

Oregon State didn't get a hit out of the infield all night. Ryan Barnes had an infield single in the second inning and Andy Peterson a bunt single in the third. That was it.

"We didn't do anything at the plate," OSU coach Pat Casey said. "Thorpe won that battle big-time.

"We just didn't challenge, didn't compete as well as we can. We're better than that."

Thorpe never even used his fourth pitch -- a changeup. Pitching coach Dean Stiles never called for it. Didn't need to.

"I was throwing it in warmups and it was solid," said Thorpe, who hit one batter, walked two and struck out seven. "Wish we'd have gone to it tonight, but we didn't. The other pitches were working, all of them."

From the fourth through the eighth innings, Thorpe retired 13 straight batters. He threw six pitches in the sixth inning, four in the seventh.

"That was something special," said Oregon first baseman Ryon Healy, who singled home the first run. "A lot of fun to play behind. The innings went so quick, I almost forgot he was throwing for us throughout that game."

Thorpe had shut out Washington on three hits through eight innings on March 29.

"Felt better tonight," he said. "I was on top of the ball. My slider, my fastball were low in the zone. I was able to get a lot of groundballs and pop-ups."

Thorpe moved into a starting role this season, but first as a middle-game starter in weekend series. Six weeks ago, Horton moved him up a day. Now, Thorpe faces the No. 1 starter from every opponent. It hasn't seemed to faze him.

"I try not to think about it too much," he said. "It's another start. They just bumped me up one day. I just go out and throw my game."

Oregon scored two runs in the bottom of the first inning off OSU starter Matt Boyd with only one ball hit out of the infield.

Brett Thomas led off with an infield single. Aaron Payne followed with a bunt single that third baseman Kavin Keyes let roll, thinking the ball would go foul. It never did.

Healy then laced a sharp single to left field, Thomas barely beating Michael Conforto's on-target throw to the plate for the game's first run. After a sacrifice bunt, Scott Heineman's nubber off the end of the bat to first baseman Danny Hayes plated Payne from third with the second run.

Oregon scored another run in the second on Nick Catalano's leadoff double down the left-field line, a sacrifice bunt and J.J. Altobelli's bloop single to short centerfield. It was all the runs the Ducks were to get. It was more than they would need, much to the delight of the standing-room-only crowd of 3,820.

"When you're playing at home, you want to make the score feel like it's more," Healy said. "With the atmosphere we had in the park tonight, it felt like it was more than 3-0."

Oregon State mounted a threat in the third when Max Gordon was hit by a pitch with one out. After a ground-out moved him to second, Peterson's bunt single put runners on first and third. A wild pitch advanced Peterson to second, but Conforto struck out looking on a curveball to end the inning. "Probably my best pitch of the game," Thorpe said.

When Thorpe walked OSU lead-off man Tyler Smith to open the ninth, Horton called on closer Jimmy Sherfy. The junior righthander made things interesting by hitting Conforto, then beaning Ryan Barnes to load the bases with two outs. With Danny Hayes representing the go-ahead run at the plate, Sherfy went to a full count before inducing a flyout to center field to earn his 20th save of the season.

"Tommy pitched so darn good and said he felt strong, I decided to leave him in," Horton said. "I'm sure glad we got that last out, because a second guess might be why didn't we go to Jimmy (to start the ninth inning). We had planned if one guy got on, we were going to go to Sherfy. He wobbled a little bit, but he gets that last out more times than he doesn't."

Boyd (10-3) yielded seven hits but got stronger as the game went on, allowing the Ducks only one safety after Payne's leadoff double in the third.

"He was doing a great job mixing speeds," Healy said. "He was pounding the fastballs in, did a good job of not missing with those. Hats off to him. Pitched a heck of a game."

Boyd "might have been a little overexcited at first," Horton said. "From the fourth inning on, he got real good. We didn't extend the lead, but that's because he was real good. We took advantage of some of his mistakes early, but after that, there weren't very many mistakes."

Thorpe made even fewer than Boyd.

"Tommy isn't big and he spins the ball a lot, and you don't know how how many bullets he can fire as a starter," Horton said. "He's a competitive little bugger. It might not always be a two-hitter like it was tonight, but any time a pitcher is that much of a warrior with his stuff, you have to like that. He might not be a candidate for pitcher of the year, but he's a pretty good Friday starter."

The pressure is on the Beavers to win Saturday's game in a duel between perhaps the top two candidates for Pac-12 Freshman of the year. OSU right-hander Andrew Moore (10-1, 1.48 ERA) goes up against UO southpaw Cole Irvin (10-2, 2.64).

"All three of our (starters) are about equal," Horton said. "Hopefully, Cole will be in character and get us deep into the game and we can turn it over to the back end of our bullpen. We have to figure out ways to score runs off an awfully good freshman who unfortunately we didn't keep in Eugene."

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