The Oregon St. baseball team is home from Omaha, after coming up short of the final series, but reaching the final four, and so its finally time to once again rate Coach Pat Casey using fanoverboard's familiar 5 Beaver-tail rating system that we use to rate all of Oregon St.'s major program head coaches.
Last year, Oregon St. was out of the race for the Pac-12 title before the final weekend of the season, and though they swept the conference portion of the Civil War, costing Oregon the title in the process, the Beavers had to go on the road for the Regionals, and lost twice to LSU in the Tigers' stadium.
Consequently, Coach Casey only received a rating somewhere above "Beaverage" from about 8 of 10 Beaver fans, down from the 9 of 10 rating he received after Oregon St. reached the Super Regionals before losing at Vanderbilt in 2011.
This year, the Beavers won the Pac-12, and earned not only a home regional, but also a National Seed, #3 in the nation, and the opportunity to host a Super Regional. Oregon St. not only advanced to the College World Series in Omaha, for just the 5th time in program history, but reached the final 4, before falling short in a 4-1 loss to Mississippi St. The team also won more games, 52, than any other team in school history, passing the previous record of 50 by the 2006 National Championship Team with their wins in Omaha.
It was the best season by any of the Oregon St. teams, which took some doing, given that the football team turned in a top 25 campaign, and an Alamo Bowl trip, and the softball team returned to the post season after a multi-year absence.
So not only is the one Beavertail Beavbysmal option not an option, but we have editorially eliminated the two Beavertail Below Beaverage choice as well, as the season was clearly not below the rather lofty Beaverage that has been established under Casey for Oregon St. baseball.
But was the season "Beaveriffic"? And how well did Casey do at meeting the challenges to achieving the CWS National Championship, which was the publicly stated goal of the team almost as soon as LSU had ended their run last June?
The challenges actually started long before the first pitch of the winter, as long time assistant Marty Lees left for a position with Oklahoma St. And Jace Fry, who had been projected as a weekend starter this season, had to undergo "Tommy John" shoulder ligament replacement surgery shortly after the end of last season.
Casey responded to the coaching opening by promoting Andy Jenkins and bringing Dallas Buck on board, at least until an early start to wildfire season summoned him away to his paying job/career.
The starting pitching staff became a total mystery when former Friday night guy Ben Wetzler suffered back problems leading up to the season opening series in Palm Springs, forcing him to miss the first 2 trips of the winter, and under conservative pitch counts for a while once he returned.
Casey's solution was to turn to senior Matt Boyd, the "Swiss Army Knife" of the Oregon St. pitching staff in his first 3 years. Having been used in every conceivable role out of the bullpen, Boyd, who had turned down a pro contract after being drafted last season, for the expressed reason of leading a run to Omaha, Casey did what he has done time and again before when he needed someone to throw anything from batting practice to closing a conference win; he handed the ball to "Matty Ice".
Boyd had stated he wanted to start in his senior season, something he had only done a couple of times as a freshman, and he backed that up with a rigorous off-season conditioning program that the coaching staff had to put the brakes on at times. But the expectation entering the season was that Boyd would see some mid-week starts and be sprinkled into the weekend rotation.
Instead, Boyd immediately became Oregon St.'s "Friday Night Guy", and earned multiple Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week honors almost immediately. Boyd would go on to beat Gonzaga's multi-time All-American Marco Gonzalez, Stanford's Mark Appel, the first pick in the 2013 MLB draft, and Indiana All-American Aaron Slegers, the Big 10 Pitcher of the Year, among others, on his way to being named an All-American himself.
Casey also handed the ball early on to freshman Andrew Moore, who was the "Saturday Starter" almost all season. All Moore did was equal the Oregon St. record for wins in a season with 14, which also co-led the country, and be named a Freshman All-American, as well as being the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, and being selected to the All-Conference First Team, and ultimately multiple All-American teams.
It took a no-hitter by Arizona St.'s Ryan Kellogg to beat Moore before Oregon St. encountered Mississippi St. in Omaha.
Oregon St. got off to a 15-0 start, and went 20-1 before Kellogg's no hitter, and the Beavers reversed their start to the Pac-12 season from 2012, where they lost 5 of 6 against the Arizona schools, which proved to doom their conference title hopes before the league schedule had hardly gotten started. Despite Kellogg, a complete game 1-hitter by Boyd the night before, the first 1 hitter administered to the Sun Devils in years, highlighted a 5-1 start to the Pac-12 season against the desert diamond squads.
But the biggest bump in the road came following that first loss, a 5-1 setback against San Francisco that ultimately cost much more than just that one game. Senior short stop Tyler Smith, below, who was hit on the left hand by a pitch, and suffered a broken bone, was eventually lost for multiple series, and the Beavers lost 4 of 7 games, including losing an Easter weekend series at San Diego. after Oregon St. had climbed to #2 in the nation, the highest point they reached this season.
Smith's absence was much more than just the loss of a +.300 hitter who happened to be the 2 time All-Pac-12 First Team Shortstop. Third baseman Kavin Keyes also played out of position, returning to second base (though he did see considerable action at the position in his previous seasons), because Andy Peterson shifted to shortstop to fill in for Smith. While the Oregon St. infield was still pretty good, Smith's absence still started a chain reaction that disrupted the team's timing.
But after UCLA's Adam Plutko, with assistance from David Berg, who would go on to be the country's leading closer, managed to beat Boyd and the Beavers 3-2, Moore did what Moore did multiple times on the season, stop the damage with a win.
And then Wetzler, above, turned the corner. Wetzler, who had struggled on the road to recovery to even last long enough in a game to get a decision, finally reached 5 innings against the Bruins.
Coach Casey had said everything would change if "Benny" could ever reach that point, and boy, did they. Wetzler's win over the Bruins that day started a run of 7 consecutive Sunday wins in 7 weeks, as Wetzler went 10-0 the rest of the season, and became the first Oregon St. player picked in the MLB draft, in the 5th round by Philadelphia, ahead of both Boyd, who went in the 6th round, by Toronto, and Smith, in the 8th round by Seattle.
In all, 10 Beavers coached up by Casey would be drafted.
The next challenge came a couple of weeks later, in Seattle, where, after the Friday night game was rained out, a soggy Saturday double header ensued. And so did the only losing streak of the season, as the Huskies took both games. It was the only Pac-12 series Oregon St. would lose, and 1 of only 3 series, with San Diego, and the games against Mississippi St. in Omaha, where a team had a winning advantage against the Beavers.
Fortunately, Wetzler was scheduled for Sunday, and the resilient Beavers did what they did all year, as no day that a game was lost in every carried over to the next game day, all of which saw Oregon St. get back on the winning track.
The Beavers proceeded to run of 12 straight wins, including conference sweeps of USC, California, and at Stanford, a weekend that probably cost the Cardinal a trip to the post-season.
The run set up a show-down in the Civil War, as Oregon had been matching Oregon St. win for win for weeks atop the Pac-12 standings.
The conference portion of the Civil War, this year contested at P.K. Park in Eugene, got off to a tough start for the Beavers, as Tommy Thorpe 2 hit them on the way to a 3-0 win.
But once again, things changed once Moore took the mound. Despite a strained abdominal muscle, Moore turned in a 2 hit complete game shutout of the Ducks, and Michael Conforto and Ryan Barnes delivered home runs that powered the Beavers to a 9-0 win.
The next day, Conforto, who would go on to be the Pac-12 Player of the Year, above, homered again, and Oregon St. stormed to a 12-2 win.
And along the way, there were plenty of ESPN Sportscenter Highlights, most of them featuring catches by Max Gordon.
But just as soon as the fun started, clinching the Pac-12 Championship took a detour when Coach Casey decided to give Boyd an early end to the evening, turning an 8-1 lead against Washington St. over to the bullpen. Which it promptly blew.
The 10-9 11 inning loss was a turning point in the season, because though Moore (again) threw a complete game shutout the next day, clinching the title due to owning all the tie-breakers against the Bruins, Ducks, and Sun Devils, the bullpen melt down destroyed Casey's confidence (and everyone else's) in the Beaver relievers.
A pitching carousel behind Wetzler on the last day of the regular season didn't help, and though word of an Oregon loss in Utah took the tie-breakers out of the conversation, it took a 3 run rally over their last 2 at bats to pull out a 7-6 win over the Cougs, and make for a more comfortable Monday watching the NCAA baseball selection show.
Oregon St. swept the Corvallis Regional, though all of the games were typical nerve-wracking Casey ball contests, but the Super Regional got off to a bumpy start, as the Kansas St. "BatCats" beat out a 6-2 win to open the weekend.
The Beavers banged their own bats to even the series Sunday with a 12-4 win, as both Smith, above, and Davis had 3 RBI nights, but Oregon St. had to hold off a Wildcat rally to hold on to the 4-3 win that sent them to Omaha. Casey's lack of faith in the bullpen led to calling on Boyd to reprise his role as the closer, and though it worked, it also, along with rain in North Carolina that prompted a schedule change for the CWS, started Oregon St. down an altered pitching path in Omaha.
Instead of opening with Boyd, Moore started the first game of the CWS, and Casey again turned to Boyd to pick up Moore. This time it didn't work, as the hard hitting Bulldogs rallied for 2 runs in the 8th inning, and the 5-4 win that sent the Beavers into the losers' bracket.
Wetzler went to work, and with the aid of a number of Louisville errors, several of which led to a 7 run Oregon St. 4th inning, the Beavers eliminated the Cardinals.
Boyd turned in one of the epic performances in recent memory against Indiana, beating a complete game 1 run allowed performance by Slegers with his own complete game shutout. It was Boyd's second 1-0 complete game win of the season, and third complete game shutout.
But Moore again couldn't adequately contain the Mississippi St. bats in the rematch, as Hunter Renfore hit only the 3rd home run of the week for the 3 runs that were the difference in the 4-1 loss that sent the Bulldogs against UCLA in the CWS finals, and the Beavers home for the season.
The regression of the bullpen was one of the most unexpected developments of the season, and a possible contributing factor might have been not enough work in the last month of the season, as the starters delivered numerous complete games. The way the mid-week schedule was constructed by the staff that limited opportunities to tune up for the post-season contributed to the bullpen getting pen-sour.
What could or should Casey have done differently to address the issue?
It's not as though the pitching was that big of a problem; the staff ERA for the season was 2.28. But we are talking about being able to beat elite teams, and sometime without adequate run support.
The other issue of the year was one discussed in last year's Rate Coach Casey season summary.
"There were a lot of times when the Beavers couldn't come up with the clutch hit, never mind a big hit, though, and Oregon St. left a lot of runners stranded, and in close contests. That lost some games, and taxed the pitching staff more than anyone would like."
The problem never got addressed, and cropped up time and again over the course of the season.
Sure, there was Conforto's 4 home run weekend against a good Bryant team, Conforto and Davis blowing up the Oregon pitching staff, Davis' 2 RBI walk-off double that scored Smith and Conforto, above, and won the UT-San Antonio Regional opener, Danny Hayes having the plate discipline to take 4 balls with 2 outs and after an 0-2 count for the walk-off walk that won the next night's game against UC-Santa Barbara, and Hayes' back to back RBI doubles that beat Texas A&M to send the Beavers to the Super Regionals.
Danny Hayes powered Oregon St. into the Super Regionals,
but also came up feet short of a walk-off home run
in the CWS opener against Mississippi St.
But Oregon St. came home from Omaha early not because of their relief pitching, it was their inability to hit in the clutch that resurfaced, and at the worst possible time, as the Beavers went 1 for 21 with runners in scoring position to end the post-season.
Oregon St. loses some key pieces in Boyd, Hayes, Barnes, Smith, Gordon, as well as Joey Matthews and Tony Bryant, and could see Wetzler, Scott Schultz, and catcher Jake Rodriguez, who made an art-form out of throwing out opposing runners, and others, leave early for professional baseball.
However, with Conforto, Davis, above, Moore, freshman Max Engelbrekt, center fielder Jeff Hendrix, and probably some of the juniors, all returning, expectations will be for another run at a Pac-12 title, and another run at the CWS is a reasonable goal.
But both the batting and the bullpen will have to be better in the clutch.
Does the fact that they weren't this season mean it was merely an "Above Beaverage" year? Are both great seasons and glaring missed opportunities for an even better one becoming "Beaverage"?
Cast your vote, and feel free to comment on both the most exciting and disappointing aspects of the season, one that despite coming up just short of the ultimate outcome, was still a pretty good year to be a Beaver.
(Photos by Andy Wooldridge, RVM, OSU Athletics)