Kerry Eggers on Sports: Oregon State baseball opens season with one-sided victory

SURPRISE, Arizona — All the questions about Oregon State going into the season were not about defense or pitching, but about OSU's offensive potential.

The 25th-ranked Beavers had something to say about that in Friday's season opener, scoring nine first-inning runs in an 11-4 victory over New Mexico that was more one-sided than the final score indicates.

"It was kind of a statement for everyone in the country, that we're not going to skip a beat this season," said pitcher Christian Chamberlain, who allowed one hit and one unearned run through six brilliant innings.

"I think we have a good thing going this year," said catcher Troy Claunch, who went 3 for 4 with four RBIs, including a third-inning homer to left field.

It was a splashy way to usher in the Mitch Canham era at Oregon State. It was the debut of the former OSU All-America catcher as the team's head coach.

"I'm excited about the way the guys competed today, and especially how they prepared before the game," Canham said. "When the game started, they showed up. You saw that sense of determination, the extreme focus.

"Everyone wanted to get out and help out any way they could. it's nice going into a game without nerves, knowing that your guys are ready."

Oregon State struck briskly after Chamberlain pitched a scoreless first inning. In the bottom of the frame, the Beavers sent 13 batters to the plate, ripping seven hits, including a 420-foot, three-run homer to center by first baseman Alex McGarry to give them a 3-0 lead.

New Mexico starter Cody Dye was lifted after not recording an out. By the time the smoke cleared at the end of the inning, OSU led 9-0 and the Surprise Stadium of 2,631 — roughly 2,500 of them Beaver fans — had seen a game's worth of fireworks.

"It was a fun time, man," Claunch said. "We were all seeing the ball really well, putting good swings on it and staying disciplined. It worked out pretty well."

"It was awesome to see guys control the zone, be selective with their pitches," Canham said. "And when they got their pitches, they were on time."

The Beavers managed only two runs and five hits the rest of the way, but Chamberlain was seeing to it that more offense wasn't needed. The 5-10, 175-pound junior left-hander walked two and struck out five. The only hit he yielded was a double to the Lobos' Kyler Castillo, the second batter he faced.

"Christian was lights out," Claunch said. "He didn't miss very many spots. He was executing all three of his pitches. That's what we look for him to do all year long."

Chamberlain was mostly a reliever though his first two seasons at OSU. Now he's getting the opportunity to start that he was hoping for.

The first time out, Canham said, "was fantastic. Christian is extremely competitive. He wants the baseball. He filled up the zone today, forced weak contact. Getting that (9-0) lead, pitchers can become complacent, but he stuck with his plan and attacked the whole way."

Claunch was Adley Rutschman's backup the past two years. Now the 6-foot, 195-pound junior is the man at the catcher position for OSU.

"I've been waiting in the wings," Claunch said. "I was very excited to finally get out here and have that opening-day start."

"It was awesome to see Troy make a deposit deep to left field, and the way he worked behind the dish," Canham said. "It fed into the defense and the pitching and the dugout. I was very impressed."

Canham started two freshmen — center fielder Micah McDowell and designated hitter Cesar Valero. The 6-2, 185-pound McDowell matched an NCAA record by scoring two runs in the first inning of his collegiate career. He was 2 for 4 with two runs scored. Valero ripped a double in the nine-run first.

"Those guys are special," Canham said. "It was exciting to watch their approach at the plate. They're playing the game the right way. Now it's making it consistent, which I believe they can do."

Said Chamberlain: "We have some young guys who really stepped up."

Canham said senior left-hander Jake Mulholland will start in Sunday's game against Gonzaga, the second of four games for Oregon State at Surprise.

"Mully's on the bump, and he's ready to rock and roll," Canham said. "He's been preparing extremely hard."

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