Pieces don't add up on lost OSU baseball weekend
CORVALLIS — Mitch Canham didn't mince words after Oregon State's 3-2 loss to Cal Santa Barbara Sunday at Goss Stadium, securing a three-game sweep for the Gauchos.
"Getting swept at home is unacceptable," said Canham, OSU's first-year coach. "We know what our standards are here and what we're capable of doing. That just wasn't it."
If Canham was surprised at going 0-3 in OSU's home-opening series, consider Cal Santa Barbara coach Andrew Checketts, the former Oregon State pitcher who was the Pac-10 Northern Division's Most Valuable Player in 1998 with an 11-1 record. Checketts was pitching coach at Oregon from 2009-11 and has been head coach at UCSB since 2012. His coaching record at Goss Stadium entering the weekend: 1-7.
"I was hoping we'd win one, to be honest with you," said Checketts, whose Gauchos (13-2) had knocked off top-five-ranked UCLA 6-5 on Tuesday. "I've been (to Goss) before. I've not had a lot of really good experiences as a coach. Haven't had a lot of luck here.
"I was hoping we'd be able to sneak one out of here. After beating UCLA, I'd have felt good about going 2-2 for the week. To come in here and win all three is almost shocking."
The Gauchos did it with strong pitching — their team ERA is a spectacular 1.84 — and solid defense, and just as important, they took advantage of Oregon State's mistakes. The Beavers (5-9), who fell 6-0 in Friday's opener and 4-0 on Saturday, were outscored 13-2 in the series. But they outhit the Gauchos in all three games, by a collective 18-11 count and by 10-5 on Sunday.
The Beavers entered the series with eight errors in their first 11 games. They had nine miscues over the weekend to just one for UCSB.
"That's really uncharacteristic of us," said second baseman Jake Dukart, who had three of the errors — his first of the season — in Friday's opener. "We're usually super clean (in the field). That's the way the game goes sometimes."
In Sunday's finale, Oregon State had 16 base runners — via 10 hits, five walks and a hit-by-pitch — and left 14 on base. Nine of those runners left on base were in scoring position.
"The hits and the walks come from battling at the plate," Canham said. "The guys responded the right way today and competed at the plate. We had the bases loaded a couple of times. Now it's a matter of getting that big knock."
Oregon State got its runs on a second-inning, two-run double by catcher Cole Hamilton. OSU had the bases loaded with one out in the frame, but left the runners stranded.
In the sixth, No. 3 hitter Alex McGarry came up with the bases full, two out and the Beavers leading 2-1. The junior first baseman worked the count to 3-1, then swung three times at pitches off the plate, striking out to end the inning.
"I can remember getting hollered at a handful of times for doing that exact same thing when I was playing," said Canham, the former All-America catcher for OSU's national championship teams of 2006 and '07. "You want more than anything to come through for your team. But we talk about winning this pitch, rather than letting the moment get too big."
In the top of the seventh, UCSB's Steele Ledford led off with a walk from OSU freshman right-hander Ryan Brown and moved to second on a single by Mason Eng. Brown fielded Nicolas Vogt's bunt and should have settled for getting Vogt at first, but instead tried to throw Ledford out at third. The ball caromed off third baseman Matt Gretler's glove, and Ledford scored the tying run.
Eng was tagged out by Hamilton at the plate when the next batter, McClain O'Connor, failed on a suicide squeeze attempt. O'Connor's ensuing swinging bunt was fielded by Gretler, who should have just held the ball. But Gretler slipped in a belated attempt to throw O'Connor out at first, and the ball sailed to the UCSB dugout, allowing Vogt to score what would be the winning run.
The Beavers had runners in each of the last three innings but couldn't get a run across. Even so, their coach liked the fight.
"We did not play very good baseball the first two games, so this was a gut check today, and I was encouraged by how the guys fought together," Canham said. "The energy stayed consistent. In all but one inning, there were a lot of positives. They played a lot more like the group that we know."
Checketts knows he was fortunate to get a sweep with just 11 hits in three games. Eight of UCSB's 13 runs in the series were unearned.
"It looks like (the Beavers) are just a little young, but they have real arms," said Checketts, whose Gauchos went 45-11 last season and represented the Big West in the NCAA tournament. "They keep coming and coming and coming. They have the pitching to be good.
"They didn't handle the ball (defensively) this weekend. That's rare for them. Everybody has one of those weekends. And I'm sure there were some emotions with the home-opening series and guys really wanting to do well."
Five Oregon State pitchers combined to hold the Gauchos to five hits and one earned run. Starter Nathan Burns was superb in 4 1/3 innings, allowing three hits and one run — a solo shot by Kyle Johnson — with one walk and eight strikeouts. But the junior right-hander was lifted in the fifth after complaining of right arm "tightness," according to Canham.
"Hopefully, it's nothing big," Canham said. "Nate was sharp. He was attacking the zone."
Freshman righty Will Fritsch pitched two innings of flawless ball with two strikeouts.
"His fastball has movement, the changeup has great arm speed and a lot of fade on it, and he's landing his breaking ball for strikes," Canham said. "It's exciting to watch him execute and go at it."
Junior right-hander Mitchell Verburg — still rehabbing from offseason elbow surgery — won't be ready for Oregon State's Pac-12-opening series, which begins Friday at Arizona. But Canham said he is progressing.
"He is extremely competitive and wants more than anything to be out there," said Canham of Verburg, who had a 1.40 ERA and a .165 opponents' batting average out of the OSU bullpen last season. "We're going through progression with him. He's throwing. It's a matter of getting to that point where, after throwing, it's feeling good over and over."
The Beavers will not have the services this season of junior right-hander Kevin Abel, the 2018 College World Series hero who underwent Tommy John elbow surgery last April. Abel, who is practicing with the team and looks to be throwing easily, was not on Oregon State's 35-man opening-day roster, which renders him ineligible to pitch in 2020.
Oregon State's offense showed some life Sunday, notably from right fielder Kyler McMahan, who had two more hits and is batting .435, and Dukart, who didn't play Saturday after his three-error game. The sophomore from Lake Oswego came back Sunday with a vengeance, going 3 for 3 with three doubles and walking twice in a perfect day at the plate. Dukart is batting .323, leads the team with 17 walks and is second in the Pac-12 with an on-base percentage of .580.
"Jake was off (Saturday) to collect his thoughts about Friday," Canham said. "He handled it well. The way he came out today and responded was fantastic."
The Beavers head to Tucson to face Arizona (10-5) and their former pitching coach, Nate Yeskie, now serving the same position for the Wildcats.
"It's not how we wanted it," Dukart said. "You never want to lose games. It's really disappointing for us, but we did come out with a lot more fire today. Bats clicked, and some good things happened.
"Just looking forward to next weekend, to get back on the field and hopefully win some games. We're super fired up to go down to Tucson."
Canham is hoping that's the case.
"You'd prefer to go into it with some wins and momentum, but today we built some momentum mentally as a group," he said. "The guys understand how they performed the last few days is not OK. We know we have what it takes to make this thing right. Now it's about putting together the whole piece."
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.