CORVALLIS Through most of the season, Andrew Moore has been a distant third in Oregon State's weekend rotation behind co-aces Jace Fry and Ben Wetztler.
With Fry gaining the Pac-12 pitcher of the year award and Wetzler leading the nation with on 0.76 ERA, Moore went 5-5 in the regular season with a decent but not imposing ERA of 2.88.
It has been a puzzling comedown for the sophomore right-hander, who was 14-2 with a 1.79 ERA while earning first-team All-America and Pac-12 freshman of the year honors a year ago.
On Friday night at Goss Stadium, Moore looked every bit the 2013 version, stoning North Dakota State on four hits over eight innings, with no walks and a career-high 14 strikeouts in a 2-1 victory.
The win moves the Beavers, 43-12 and the NCAA Tournament's top seed, into an 8 p.m. Saturday matchup with No. 3 Cal Irvine (36-22), which pounded second-seeded Nevada-Las Vegas 10-3 on Friday.
On a night when Oregon State struggled against Bison right-hander David Ernst and left 11 runners on base, Moore's pitching performance was a godsend.
"Mo was lights out," OSU coach Pat Casey said. "It's as good as I've ever seen him. He was really good when he needed to be."
Could the difference have been something as simple as a haircut? Moore, whose long, curly red locks would have cast him in the lead role whenever the "Carrot Top" story hits the big screen, was shorn with a much shorter look on Thursday.
"I just felt it was time to get a fresh cut," Moore said afterward. "Last year, (ex-OSU pitcher) Matt Boyd got a haircut before the Regional, and it worked well for him.
"People were saying, 'It's like the Andrew from last year,' with the shorter hair. Feels good to throw that well again. Guess I made the right decision to get it cut."
Casey: "He can wear it any way he wants, as long as he gets people out."
The real difference Friday night was location and control. Moore threw 117 pitches, 79 of them strikes.
"Kid was electric," North Dakota State coach Tod Brown said. "I don't know how many pitches we fouled off -- somewhere in the mid- to upper-20s. We were grinding, trying to lengthen our at-bats, but he located and made pitches to put us away. It's hard to score runs when you strike out 14 times."
"Andrew's stuff was pretty impressive," said Logan Ice, OSU's freshman catcher. "The biggest thing was his command with the fastball. There have been time this year when he has been disappointed with that. When Andrew has his fastball and his command, when he's pitching downhill and finding both sides of the plate, he's so tough. He did that tonight. He put himself in good position to (go 0-2) and get them chasing pitches they can't hit."
Moore believes the key to his pitching success is throwing strikes with the fastball.
"When I've gotten in trouble this year is in falling behind hitters," he said. "I located the fastball really well tonight, and that's the best the curveball and slider have been all year. I got ahead, which allowed me to throw my pitches."
Casey said he originally intended to use Wetzler against the Bison, until the senior left-hander felt his back stiffen on Thursday.
"I said, 'You know what, (Wetzler) needs another couple of days of rest,' " the 20th-year OSU skipper said. "With our three guys, I trust them all. We felt if we could bump Wetz as late as we could, that's what we'd do."
To be fair, though, part of the decision had to be that with the way Moore was going, he was the No. 3 starter going against the Regional's lowest seed, a team now sporting a 25-25 record.
"We expected to see Moore," Brown said. "We thought they'd save the left-handers for the other two clubs."
The Bison scrapped, though, and were in it until clean-up hitter Kyle Kleinendorst's fly ball was caught at the warning track by OSU left fielder Michael Conforto to end the game.
"I talked to a coach from their conference this week," Casey said. "He said, 'Don't let their record fool you. They're up by the Canadian border. They've been in our conference championship four straight years. They're a very good team, and the guy who will be on the mound, he's good.' "
Ernst is only 5-5 this season, but he scattered 10 hits and wiggled out of trouble on several occasions.
"There are times to be patient," Ice said. "There are times to be jumping on pitches. With runners in scoring position, we took too many pitches. But we got the win. That's all that matters to us."
Moore's gem could have been wasted, however, if not for the late heroics of Dylan Davis, whose two-out seventh-inning solo home run to left field provided the margin of victory on a night when offense was not part of the Beavers' lexicon.
"We needed something to get us some life," said Davis, whose double had knocked in the tying and winning run in a 5-4 triumph over Texas-San Antonio in the Corvallis Regional opener a year ago. "I was lucky enough to see a ball up, and I tried not do too much. Luckily enough, I hit it out."
It was a rare moment of offensive success for the Beavers, who were battled tooth and nail by the Summit League Tournament champion Bison.
"We really competed against the best team in the country," Brown said. The Beavers' "lineup top to bottom is very difficult. They left a lot of guys on base. That's a credit to David getting out of a lot of jams.
"Momentum started going our way a little bit. We were playing pretty loose, our guys were getting fired up, and you could see (the Beavers) getting tight and frustrated. I couldn't ask anything more out of our guys they way they competed at the plate, defensively and on the mound."
Casey could ask for more offense from the Beavers, who have scored nine runs in their last five games. And particularly from Conforto, who won his second of back-to-back Pac-12 player of the year awards this season but is in the biggest slump of his college career. The 6-1, 215-pound junior, destined to be a first-round pick in the June 6 major league draft, went 0 for 4 Friday night, dropping to 4 for 28 in his last eight games.
"I wish the draft was yesterday," Casey said. "Michael's going to get $5 million here in about a week. I wish he'd understand that and just relax. He's swinging at pitches a little bit out of the zone, he's pressing a little bit. (Pitchers) are crowding him, going off-speed, and he's making himself vulnerable.
"It just happens in baseball. You can go to the Robinson Canos, the Jacoby Ellsburys, the Albert Pujols -- they go through those times."
One swing of the bat could turn things around for Conforto. Maybe it will happen Saturday night against Cal Irvine, which snapped a six-game losing streak with its blowout win over UNLV. The Anteaters will throw sophomore left-hander Elliot Surrey (6-4, 2.12), not the kind of pitcher generally regarded as a slump-buster.
"They're very well-coached, very precise," Casey said. "They'll play the short game, they're going to pitch, they're going to defend.
"This doesn't get easier. But the swing that Dylan put on the ball and the lift that he gave us will propel us (Saturday). In 27 years of coaching, I've never not gone through a stretch where offense wasn't a little more difficult than it should be. I can't be concerned about that right now. I have to be concerned about how we win the next inning."