Oregon St. Starts USC Series

Trever Morrison and the Oregon St. Beavers will try to defend their #1 ranking and position atop the Pac-12 Conference tonight against USC. - (Photo by Andy Wooldridge)

#1 Oregon St. (41-10, 22-5) at USC (27-23, 14-13) / Rod Dedeaux Park, Los Angeles, OR / 4:00 PM PDT / Pac-12 Channel / KEJO 1240 AM / KPOJ 620 AM

Game NotesUSC Notes

Top ranked (at least for now) Oregon St. winds up their regular season with a trip to Los Angeles to take on USC, starting with this afternoon's game.

The Beavers are assured of hosting an NCAA Regional next weekend at Goss Stadium in Corvallis, and barring a complete collapse and probably some other chaos, will even be a "National See", meaning they would also host a Super Regional the following weekend if they prevail in the Regional.

But after getting beat 6-2 by rival Oregon a day after attaining a unanimous #1 ranking for the first time ever during the course of a season, Oregon St. will be looking to try to protect that ranking, and maintain the most favorable mix of opponents in the Regional, and in the Super Regional.

The Trojans were looking like they might make their return to the post-season for the first time since 2005 when they ran off 9 straight wins back in April, capped by a sweep at rival UCLA, but have subsequently lost 6 of 9, and any last post season hopes USC still has probably hinge on sweeping the weekend series, especially after getting drilled 17-3 at Fullerton St. on Tuesday.

USC has clinched their first winning season since 2005, with that notable milestone breaking an 8 year run of losing coming Monday when the Trojans beat Grand Canyon 6-3, and enters the weekend in 5th place in the Pac-12.

Oregon St. and USC fans alike will recall that 2005 season, when the Beavers won the first and third games in the Corvallis Super Regional to start their run of 3 consecutive trips to Omaha.

Oregon St. needs either a win in LA or a Washington loss in Seattle to UCLA to sew up the Pac-12's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, after the Beavers took the last 2 games of last weekend's conference series in Corvallis from the Huskies, both in complete game shutout fashion, a 1-0 dog-pile off win pitched by Jace Fry on Saturday, and a 3-0 2 hit, 9 strikeout handcuffing by Ben Wetzler on Sunday. Wetzler received both the Pac-12 and NCBWA National Pitcher of the Week honors as a result.

Any combination of Oregon St. wins or Washington losses that adds up to 2 earns the Beavers their second consecutive undisputed, tie-breaker free Pac-12 title.

Oregon St. will also be looking to re-establish a pair of starters into their rotation this weekend, in preparation for the post-season.

Senior first baseman Kavin Keyes, out since breaking a bone in his glove hand while making a tag in the Washington St. series back in early April, made his return Tuesday night, pinch hitting against Oregon. This weekend should see his return to the field defensively.

Oregon St.'s other senior infielder, second baseman Andy Peterson, should also be back in action. Peterson sprained an ankle at the bottom of the Saturday evening dogpile, and missed both Sunday's series deciding game, and Tuesday night's final Civil War battle as well. Peterson was in a walking boot at both games, but head coach Pat Casey said that had Tuesday's game been the last game of the season, Peterson would have been on the field.

It probably moves Gabe Clark into the DH role. The sophomore has been an effective part of the fill in for Keyes plan, and is red hot with the bat, hitting .500 (11 of 22) during the course of the 7 game hitting streak he currently has going, with 4 runs scored, 6 RBIs, and 2 doubles during it.

Oregon St. shook up their rotation last weekend, in response to a 5 game suspension Casey assessed to Wetzler after an off-field incident the weekend before, moving senior LHP Wetzler (10-1, 0.84 ERA) from his normal Friday night slot to Sunday, with sophomore RHP Andrew Moore (5-4, 2.94 ERA) moving from Saturday to Friday, and junior LHP Fry (11-1, 1.50 ERA) from Sunday to Saturday.

Because of that, Casey didn't decide in advance what the order of appearance will be this weekend, though there's no doubt about who the 3 starters will be.

The Trojans didn't play last weekend, and sophomore RHP Brent Wheatley (4-3, 3.76 ERA), one of the regular starters, started Tuesday in Fullerton, and will also get the start tonight. He worked less than an inning though, so he should be fresh enough despite only 2 days off.

Whether he can be more effective than he was against the Titans might be another matter. Wheatley gave up 5 hits and a walk, which resulted in 5 Fullerton runs, while getting only 2 outs.

Junior RHP Wyatt Strahan (6-4 3.33 ERA), who has the most starts for the Trojans, started Monday, and got the win against Grand Canyon. Strahan is scheduled for Saturday's start.

Senior LHP Bob Wheatley (3-4, 4.32 ERA) is USC's other regular starter, and hasn't pitched since the California series the weekend before. USC Coach Dan Hubbs hasn't announced his Sunday starter yet, though it seems the senior would get the start in what's probably going to be the final game of the year. If the Trojans win the first 2 games, and are still chasing an at large bid, it would obviously affect Hubbs' approach.

Oregon St. swept USC last year, but the Trojans took the series 2 games to 1 over the Beavers in both 2011 & 2012.

UPDATE:

Fry gets the start tonight on the mound, and Keyes is back at first base, so Clark is the DH today. But Peterson is not in the starting lineup, and Caleb Hamilton, the regular third baseman, is again at second base. Michael Conforto, who got the start at third base against Oregon, will be back in left field, with Jerad Casper at third to start tonight.

Andy_Wooldridge@yahoo.com

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