BY KERRY EGGERS/PORTLAND TRIBUNE/Pitching and defense let down in series loss to Utah; Casey challenges his Oregon State team, now ranked No. 4, to respond

CORVALLIS — Pat Casey doesn't have all the answers, but the veteran coach of Oregon State's fourth-ranked baseball team knows when things are amiss.

Against Utah last weekend, Oregon State's pitching and defense were amiss.

The Beavers (22-4 overall, 6-3 in Pac-12 play) totaled 33 hits and 24 runs in the three-game series, almost always enough to ensure a sweep for a program that prides itself on pitching and defense.

The Utes took two of the three games, though, winning 8-7 on Friday and 11-8 on Sunday. They had 18 hits in the final game and 35 hits in the series while taking advantage of seven OSU errors. It snapped the Beavers' string of winning 14 straight Pac-12 series dating to 2016.

Normally, that would be bad enough. But Utah, which started the season 0-13, was 4-19 heading into the series at Smith's Ballpark in Salt Lake City. There's no way to sugar-coat things for the Beavers, who entered the series as the nation's No. 1-ranked team.

"(The Utes) hit the ball all over the park," Casey said before Monday's 11-inning, 3-2 victory over Nevada at Goss Stadium in a game that took four hours and 11 minutes to complete. "We weren't able to keep them off the (score)board. We talk about it all the time. You win games by pitching and defending, and we didn't do either one of those. It cost us.

"We didn't play well at all. We didn't play the way we play. There's no doubt in my mind that on a given day, anybody can beat anybody. (In the Utah series) we did not respond to the game itself. Nothing went our way, and we weren't able to respond to challenges."

Senior left-hander Luke Heimlich allowed two earned runs and eight hits over 6 1/3 innings to run his record to 6-0 in the middle contest. In the other two, neither freshman right-hander Kevin Abel nor junior right-hander Bryce Fehmel got out of the fourth inning, and the bullpen wasn't up to snuff.

"Our pitching was very poor from start to finish," Casey said. "The starters were poor; the relievers were poor. We had a couple of guys who threw well. Heimlich pitched well after about the fourth inning, and (junior reliever) Dylan Pearce was very competitive. Our pitching has not been where we think it should be all year long, and it wasn't good last weekend."

Oregon State's hitting has been excellent, with the Beavers finishing the weekend leading the Pac-12 with a .315 batting average while ranking second in runs scored at 7.3 per game. The pitching, meanwhile, was fourth with a 3.23 ERA, a far cry from a year ago when the Beavers led the nation with a 1.93 ERA.

That flip-flopped Monday night in the win over Nevada. The Beavers managed only three runs and seven hits in 11 innings but held the Wolfpack (15-10) to four hits and two runs. Starter Grant Gambrell (two hits, two runs, two walks and five strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings) and closer Jake Mulholland (one hit, no runs, one walk and two strikeouts in 3 2/3 innings) were particularly effective.

Gambrell (3-1, 3.03 ERA) may have earned another shot at the starting rotation when the Beavers visit Arizona (17-10, 2-4) for a three-game series beginning Friday at Tucson.

Several members of OSU's relief corps have solid numbers, including freshman left-hander Christian Chamberlain (2-0, 0.64, .128 opponents' batting average), Pearce (1-0, 1.23, .176), Mulholland (1-0, 1.96, .217) and Brandon Eisert (3-2, 2.49, .234). But Casey and pitching coach Nate Yeskie are looking for more consistency from starters.

"We have to get better on the mound, no doubt about it," Casey said. "We didn't play well against Washington. When everybody's giving you their best shot, you have to respond.

"Against Utah, it wasn't just pitching. We made a lot of errors. We made baserunning mistakes. We grounded into seven double plays. Utah played very well. It's the team that plays the best that day. They played better than we did two of the three days.

"We haven't been very good for a while. We just need to play a lot better baseball."

Captain Nick Madrigal, who has been out of action since Feb. 23 with a broken wrist, gathered his teammates together for a pow wow prior to Monday's game.

"This team is made of guys who are too tough to let one bad series break us down," the junior second baseman said. "I truly believe that. This is a special group."

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