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KERRY EGGERS ON SPORTS/PORTLAND TRIBUNE/Return of All-American second baseman gives Beavers 'great leader'

COURTESY: SCOBEL WIGGINS/OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY - Nick Madrigal takes a big swing for Oregon State baseball.CORVALLIS — The smallest guy on the field made the biggest impact on the Oregon State baseball team Friday night at Goss Stadium.

Nick Madrigal went only 1 for 3 with a walk, but his presence was Ruthian in the Beavers' 2-1 victory over Oregon to clinch a series sweep of the Ducks.

The junior second baseman missed 26 games with a fractured left wrist suffered Feb. 23 against Ohio State at Surprise, Arizona. In his first game back, the 5-8, 165-pound Madrigal had two hits and and an RBI in a 5-2 series-opening win over the Ducks to open the series Thursday night.

Oregon State completed a three-game sweep of the Civil War series with a 12-5 romp on Saturday.

Madrigal went 5 for 11 in the series and is now hitting .528 in nine games this season.

"The guy is one of the best players in the country, and maybe the best position guy in the country," OSU head coach Pat Casey says. "He brings energy and confidence to the team. He's our leader. He's the guy who makes us go."

Capacity crowds cheered on the Beavers (now 29-6 overall and 10-5 in Pac-12 play) in each of the games in the series, but nobody drew a larger ovation than Madrigal, the Pac-12 Player of the Year, Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and a consensus All-American as a sophomore last season.

"It's nice just to be out on the field, especially with the crowds we had the last two days," the soft-spoken Elk Grove, California, native says. "It feels good to be back out there."

The seven-week hiatus, he says, "was different for me."

"Through my baseball career, I've never sat for that many games," Madrigal says. "I tried to stay positive through it all. I had a great support system — my family, my friends, the guys on the team."

During his absence, the Beavers' captain tried to provide leadership from the bench. And he tried to take a view of the game from a different perspective.

"When I was sitting on the bench, I tried to stay involved pitch to pitch, to see a different side of the game I hadn't seen before," says Madrigal, who traveled with the Beavers for their series at California, Utah, Arizona and Missouri State. "I tried to stay locked in to the game."

Madrigal stopped short of calling the wrist 100 percent healed.

"It feels good," he says. "(Trainer) Jeremy Ainsworth has done a great job getting me right."

Even if not completely healthy, Madrigal's return has been appreciated by teammates.

"It means everything to us," left fielder Jack Anderson says. "He's the best leader I've ever been around. Anyone on the team would say that. There was only so much he could do for us in the games he was out. To have him out there on the field, you can see the added confidence in our team. He's something special."

"Even when he wasn't playing, he picks us up in the dugout," pitcher Luke Heimlich says. "He's a great leader. But having him back on the field is even better. I notice his chatter, his intensity. He always make the right plays, and he helps other people make the right decisions as well."

When the Beavers lost five of nine games to fall from the nation's No. 1 ranking in late March and early April, it appeared they had been knocked off their equilibrium. Four straight wins over Missouri State and Oregon may have gotten them back on track.

"You're going to have times when you don't swing it the best, and times when the pitching is not the best," Madrigal says. "That's baseball. But what Oregon State baseball is about is, if the pitching's not there, the hitters have to take over, and vice versa. We still have a lot of games left, but we're feeling good about where we are right now."

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