#5 Washington (37-11-1, 19-5) at #2 Oregon St. (39-8, 20-4) / Goss Stadium / 4:00 PM PDT / Pac-12 Oregon / KEJO 1240 AM / KPOJ 620 AM
Oregon St. squares off in their last home series of the regular season against northwest rival Washington this weekend, starting with an early evening, 4 PM start tonight, and the stakes couldn't be higher.
The biggest showdown between the historic northwest rivals is the biggest edition of the rivalry in history, with the Huskies higher ranked at #5 than they have ever been, and the Beavers, at #2, as high as they ever have been during the season. It's also the biggest series in the country this weekend.
The Pac-12 Championship is probably going to be decided this weekend. "Probably" in that the only way it is absolutely settled is if Oregon St. sweeps, which will ensure a repeat conference title for the hosts. But the team that wins the series under any other combination of outcomes not only is in command of the situation going into the final week of the season, they are heavily in command.
Oregon's St.'s magic number is any combination of 6 Beaver wins and Husky losses to claim the conference title outright, but it is only 5 for the #1 seed if they take 2 of 3, and gain the tie-breaker. A 2 of 3 series win would then require Washington to sweep UCLA AND USC to sweep Oregon St. for the Beavers to lose the conference's automatic seed into the NCAA Tournament.
Washington's magic number for the title is 7, which is why they can't clinch even with a sweep, but in that case, the Huskies would need only 1 win at home at Husky Ballpark next weekend against UCLA, OR a single loss by the Beavers in LA to USC to lock it up.
If Washington takes 2 of 3, the race would be tied, but the Huskies would hold the tie-breaker, and Oregon St. would no longer control their ability to take the #1 seed, even with a sweep of the Trojans, should the Huskies sweep the Bruins.
Both teams are going to host an NCAA Regional, but the team that gets the #1 seed almost surely gets a "National" seed, which means hosting a Super Regional should they prevail in 2 weeks in their regional. But the loser will be on the bubble for a top 8 final finish, especially if its Washington. The series loser could still come away with a National seed, but would probably need some help, and probably a sweep vs. a series win next weekend.
Washington comes in having won 8 in a row, with Tuesday's 6-0 shutout of Seattle their last outing. The last 5 of those wins have all been non-conference contests, with a sweep of last place Utah the only Pac-12 wins in that stretch. The Huskies did take the last 2 of 3 from Washington St. in the Apple Cup series the weekend before their trip to Utah.
Oregon St. has won 12 in a row, and 19 of their last 21 games. The Beavers downed Portland 8-4 Tuesday at Volcanoe's stadium in Keizer, and also has 3 consecutive Pac-12 series sweeps, against Oregon, at California, and against UCLA, the last 3 weekends.
Oregon St. has also won 11 consecutive Pac-12 games, their longest conference winning streak since the unification of the baseball Pac-10.
Complicating the issue for Oregon St. though is the "Wetzler situation", in which Oregon St. senior LHP Ben Wetzler (9-1 0.94 ERA), the Beavers' normal Friday night starter and all-time program leader in wins, was arrested last Saturday morning, when, after helping the Beavers to a 4-2 win over UCLA, attempted to enter the wrong house, mistaking a neighbor's residence for his own.
Calls for some form of suspension ensued from some quarters, and Casey spent the week deliberating what action to take, and when, leaving the Beavers' pitching rotation for the entire weekend undecided as a consequence.
Casey finally decided Wetzler will pitch this weekend, with the determining factor apparently being the fact that the only charges Wetzler faces are misdemeanors, whereas a felony charge would have resulted in a suspension pending resolution of the matter.
Casey made a minimal impact decision, suspending Wetzler for 5 games, retroactive to last Saturday's game, which is after Wetzler had informed Casey of the fiasco.
As a result, Wetzler, and his nation leading ERA, will be eligible to pitch on Sunday, and will get that start.
Casey did not confirm the pitching rotation for the rest of the weekend, choosing to play coy with Husky head coach Lindsay Meggs, but expect sophomore RHP Andrew Moore (5-3, 2.92 ERA), who has usually been the Saturday starter this season and last, to go tonight, with junior LHP Jace Fry (10-1, 1.64 ERA), who has been Oregon St.'s Sunday guy all season, to move up to Saturday.
That will put the best available Oregon St. pitcher against Washington's ace Tyler Davis, who is also 10-1.
Washington has no such uncertainty about who will take the mound, as coach Meggs will go with junior RHP Jared Fisher (5-3, 4.32 ERA). Fisher was especially sharp in his last outing, the first game of the Huskies non-conference week during the Pac-12 season, a 4-0 win over Bethune-Cookman.
Fisher only went 5 innings, but though he walked 5, he only gave up 1 hit before handing the lead over to Trevor Dunlap and the Washington bullpen. And while some might say "it was just Bethune-Cookman", its important to note that Fisher and the Huskies handed previously unbeaten Montana Durapau, who had won 9 games for a team that only won 22 in their now-concluded regular season (the MEAC tournament is already underway), and handed him his first loss of the season.
The Beavers will be without senior first baseman Kavin Keyes for the entire series, however. Keyes, out since breaking a bone in his glove hand while making a tag out against Washington St., had practiced without incident this week, and had hoped to be cleared to return to action a week earlier than the original best estimate. But a bone scan and a CT scan Wednesday did not make Keyes' doctor comfortable enough to release him for further action yet.
The teams have met once earlier this season, back on Feb. 24, in the Monday conclusion of the 2 teams' stay in Surprise, AZ, for the Big 10-Pac-12 Challenge, which saw the Beavers suffer a quarter of their season losses to date, and the Huskies 3 of theirs. Oregon St. salvaged a split of the weekend with a 3-2 win, as Kavin Keyes came through with a 4 for 4 day, and Logan Ice delivered a 2 out 2 RBI double, and then scored what would prove to be the winning run.
Oregon St. got a 6 2/3 inning 2 hit 2 walk pitching performance from freshman Jake Thompson that day, for Thompson's 2nd win of the season, while Washington got 2 runs despite getting only 4 hits on the afternoon.
Last year, Washington took the series, with a Saturday double header sweep of Oregon St. in a downpour in Seattle, the only time all year the Beavers lost consecutive games. The Huskies took the opener 5-1, and then the second game, made necessary when the Friday opener was rained out, by a 10-3 score. Washington beat both Matt Boyd and Andrew Moore in the process, as well as burning up 8 bullpen Beavers as well.
Oregon St. bounced back with an 8-0 win on Sunday, behind a 4 hit, 1 walk, 6 strikeout complete game shutout, ironically by Wetzler, which launched the Beavers on a 12 game winning streak.