Oregon St. hosts Kansas St., the regular season Big XII champions, this weekend in the NCAA Baseball Super Regionals, with a trip to Omaha for the College World Series the prize. The series opens Saturday afternoon at 4 PM, with a second game Sunday night at 7 PM. Unless one of the teams sweeps the weekend, a third game will be played Monday afternoon at 4 PM with everything on the line. ESPNU will carry all of the games.
College sports fans are probably most familiar with the Wildcats for their football exploits under coach Bill Snyder, with their meeting in the Fiesta Bowl with Oregon this past January still fresh in the minds of Pac-12 fans.
Oregon St. fans also recall losing an NCAA Mens' Basketball Tournament game to Kansas St., the lesser known, but not that much less, than their cross-state Jayhawk rivals in hoops.
Kansas St. baseball is less on most peoples minds, given that the Wildcats are from a conference where Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma St., TCU, and Baylor are far more familiar brand names, and this year's conference championship was the first one for the Wildcats since 1933.
That could change quickly if the hard hitting Wildcats can get their bats going against the Beavers. And even with 2 All-Americans in Matt Boyd and Andrew Moore plus All-Pac-12 selection Ben Wetzler in the rotation, that's certainly possible.
Kansas St. has 9 guys hitting above .310, led by Austin Fisher and Ross Kivett, both of whom enter the Corvallis Super Regional hitting .363. The Wildcats have a team batting average of .324, second best in the country.
In contrast, Oregon St. has 3 regular players in that range, Dylan Davis, Andy Peterson, and Michael Conforto, and the Beavers as a team hits .289.
The Wildcats are 1 run short of 400 runs scored in 61 games, an average of over 6 1/2 runs per game, with 678 hits, including 110 doubles, and 28 triples to go with 28 home runs.
That's across the board substantially better than the 337 runs Oregon St. has scored, on 565 hits, 94 of which were doubles, 10 were triples, and 26 were round-trippers.
And a night and day difference from the 170 runs on 389 hits the Beavers pitchers have given up. The 65 doubles, 9 triples, and 15 home runs allowed are way below what the Wildcats are used to as well.
It's reasonable to expect Kansas St. to have one of the most effective series of any opponent Oregon St. has faced this season, and have one of their least productive series all at the same time; the differences in numbers are that extreme. Which extreme reality comes closest to probably decides who goes to Omaha.
It's been a good year in Manhattan, Kansas, though, as the 'Cats baseball Big XII title followed conference championships in both football and men's basketball. It's only the second time that's happened in the Big XII, and only the 4th time in the BCS era its happened anywhere.
The 'Cats 44-17 record has set a new program record for wins, and went 16-8, including winning 6 straight to lock up the Big XII, before a closing day loss, winning the conference by 2 1/2 games.
Kansas St. beat Texas Tech and Baylor in their conference tournament, before losing to eventual tournament champion Oklahoma 7-6 in the semifinals. The Sooners as it happens are, with Rice, the only #2 seeds to advance out of last weekend's regionals.
The Wildcats powered their way through the Manhattan regional, starting with a 20-11 win over Wichita St., and following that up with a 7-1 win over Bryant, a team Oregon St. swept a 4 game series from back in early March, in the Beavers' home opener series.
Sunday's Super Regional clinching contest against Arkansas was a lot closer, but the 'Cats prevailed 4-3, coming from behind, after the Razorbacks jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first inning. Kansas St. got a shutout bullpen performance from Gerardo Esquivel, Nate Williams and Jake Matthys, who combined to toss 7.1 scoreless innings, and after scoring twice in the 4th inning, the Wildcats scored two 7th runs on wild pitches to get the win.
If the Wildcats' offense is a force, and scary (to opponents), then their pitching is anything but.
Matt Wivinis (6-2, 4.84) and Joe Flattery (5-4, 3.87) have the most starts and wins, but their ERA's are an indication of why the Wildcat pitching staff has been a work in progress, and subject to constant shuffling. No one has been a starter only, as Wivinis has 14 starts in 19 appearances, and Flattery 12 starts in 18 outings.
Blake McFadden (6-2, 4.40) has 12 starts in 16 outings, but has of late slipped out of the rotation at times in favor of Williams (4-3, 2.98), who has now made 7 starts amongst his 22 appearances, but is still also an option out of the bullpen. Levi MaVorhis (5-0, 4.05) has also started 6 times, and been in 22 games, as head coach Brad Hill and pitching coach Josh Reynolds continue to scramble to support the 'Cats' offense.
Matthys, who joins Oregon St.'s Moore as freshman All-Americans, has been Kansas St.'s main bullet out of their bullpen, with 55 innings pitched in 32 appearances. He has 9 saves, but has an 8-1 record, indicating he's not the typical "closer" that only gets used to hold onto leads. His ERA of 1.96, coupled with 38 strikeouts against 41 hits, and impressively, only 3 walks and 3 batters hit by pitch, means he is a force to be dealt with if the game is close either way late (and with "Casey ball", it usually is for Oregon St.).
Tanner Witt also has 7 saves in 17 outings, in which he's got 17 innings pitched, and an ERA of 3.18. He has more strikeouts, 18, than hits allowed, 17.
The series certainly shaped up to be an entertaining one, as Oregon St. head coach Pat Casey will face a variety of challenges, and certainly unknowns (there are a lot of unknowns day to day to the Kansas St. folks!), but also some apparent opportunities.
Here's a look at Oregon St. in preparation for the challenge ahead: