Oregon State baseball coach Pat Casey isn’t about to downplay the importance of momentum. Nor does he make too much of it.
The 23rd-ranked Beavers (38-18) closed out their regular season by sweeping No. 5 Oregon at home last weekend and have won four straight along with 10 of their 14 games in May. Could that make OSU, making its fourth straight postseason appearance, the hottest team going into the Baton Rouge Regional?
Maybe, just maybe.
“I like the fact that we won all three of our games last weekend,” Casey said. “And I’d like to think that will help us this weekend. I know for sure it won’t hurt us.”
Oregon State comes to Baton Rouge for the first time, giving the four-team regional another team in addition to host LSU that has won the College World Series. Make no mistake about it, these young Beavers are more about the here and now than the past that includes national titles in 2006 and 2007.
OSU, the regional’s No. 2 seed, plays No. 3 Belmont (39-22) in the game that will open the tourney at 2 p.m. Friday at Alex Box Stadium.
“This is a young team,” Casey said. “We start two freshmen in the outfield, and we rely on several younger players in our lineup.
“So we’ve definitely grown and gotten better as the season has gone on. We want them (OSU players) to go into the regional like they have the other games: looking to play hard and play the best that they possibly can.”
For the Beavers, the growing pains started before the season began. Adam Duke, a right-hander and OSU’s top pitcher in 2011 as a true freshman, had shoulder surgery and was sidelined before the year began.
With youth has come some notable surprises. Freshman left fielder Michael Conforto of Woodinville, Wash., has blossomed into a star. Conforto leads the Beavers with 13 home runs and 71 runs batted in and ranks second on the team in batting average at .343.
Junior shortstop Tyler Smith (Thousand Oaks, Calif.) leads OSU with a .350 batting average that includes one home run and 34 RBIs. Senior third baseman Ryan Dunn (Bend, Ore.) is hitting .299 with seven home runs and 34 RBIs. The Beavers are hitting .283, compared to a .264 average for opponents.
“We’re not a team that’s going to smash the ball all the time,” Casey said. “I’d like to think we’re balanced in that we can do a variety of things to score runs.
“Our pitchers have battled and battled all year. It’s pretty much the same for them.”
Sophomore left-hander Ben Wetzler (Clackamas, Ore) is 7-2 with a 3.39 earned run average and who picked up one of the wins last weekend. Sophomore right-hander Dan Childs (Rocklin, Calif.) is 6-3 with a 2.75 ERA.
Freshman lefty Jace Fry (Beaverton, Ore.) is 5-3 with a 2.48 ERA and also picked up a win last weekend. Junior right-hander Tony Bryant (Kennwick, Wash.) is 5-2 with a 4.03 ERA and a team-high nine saves.
“We’re excited about coming to LSU and about the opportunity to keep playing,” Casey said.
Casey became OSU’s all-time winningest coach when the Beavers ousted rival Oregon on Friday. He now has a record of 616-374-4 in 18 years at the school and has won 353 games in the last eight seasons.
Louisiana’s heat and humidity will be something new for the Beavers, but not for Casey, who played in the Texas League as a San Diego Padres farmhand for a team located in Beaumont, Texas, in the mid-1980s, that played against teams in Shreveport and Jackson, Miss.
Before coming to OSU, Casey coached at George Fox, an Oregon-based NAIA school. Casey has won 33 postseason games with the Beavers.
The OSU roster has 10 players from Oregon. The Beavers also have 10 players from California and nine from Washington state.