The OSU Baseball Team came into the 2007 with high hopes after winning a National Championship in June of 2006. However, they lost guys off that Championship team like Cole Gillespie, Bill Rowe, Tyler Graham, Chris Kunda, Shea McFeely, Dallas Buck, Jonah Nikerson, and Kevin Gunderson. This created holes at three infield positions; third, second, and first, as well as pitcher. The departures basically left all three outfield positions up for grabs. With all of these players leaving after accomplishing the greatest feat in the sport, guys like Joey Wong, Jordan Lennerton, Lonnie Lechelt, Drew George, Mike Lissman, Chris Hopkins, John Wallace, Mike Stutes, Joe Patterson, Jorge Reyes, and Daniel Turpen have stepped up this year after not spending much time in the spotlight last year. In some cases, these guys were playing on high school fields and competing for state championships a year ago.
Beaver Nation's expectations dipped a bit when all of our stars left after the 2006 season. We know Pat Casey and Co. were going to put together a competitive baseball team, but we knew the challenges that come with losing the nucleus of a championship team.
However, the Beavers proved us wrong. They started the season in spectacular fashion, winning seven games in a row to start the season. This included four games in Hawaii, as well as a three game sweep of the Georgia Bulldogs, a team the Beavers eliminated from the '06 tourney in Omaha. Their first loss of the season came at the Coca-Cola Classic at the hands of Gonzaga, but they rebounded from that loss to knock off Arizona State and Missouri in the next two days, two teams that now find themselves hosting regionals.
The Beavers would move their record to 11-2 before playing in the Aggie's Baseball Classic down in College Station. They would lose their first game to the Aggies on Friday, but then they won three straight games and beat the Aggies on Monday to win the tournament. The Beavers would go on to win nine consecutive games before Pac-10 play started. This put their pre-season non-conference record at 23-3. Later in the season, a sweep of UNLV and two victories over Portland moved their non-conference record to 28-3.
Then the Pac-10 Season Started. The Beavers started things off with a trip to the desert to play Arizona. That didn't go so well, as the Beavers were swept by the Wildcats. The Beavers were ranked #2 heading into Tuscon, their highest national ranking (yet!) of the season. They headed back to Corvallis to play USC with a 0-3 conference record, and a slightly lower #8 National Ranking.
The Beavers took care of the Trojans 9-5 in Game 1 of the series, and then lost Game 2 by a score of 1-4. Saturday's Game 3 went into extra innings, but thanks to a home run by Jordan Lennerton in the bottom of the eleventh, the Beavers were able to win 9-8. This put them at 2-4 in conference.
The next week, the Beavers traveled down to Berkley and beat Cal twice, securing a series victory, and moving themselves to 4-5. The Beavers were also able to win two games against Stanford in Palo Alto, but they felt like they deserved a sweep. However, with the two wins, they broke the .500 mark, now with a 6-5 record. They wouldn't stay above .500 for long however, as their lack of offensive production became apparent at the Friday Washington game at Safeco Field. The Beavers did get nine hits, but they left fourteen men on base, and only got their leadoff man on once, in the eighth inning. That man was Mike Lissman, and he would go on to score the second Beaver run of the day. Mike also drove in Mitch Canham, the only other Beaver to score that night. The Beavers lost the Saturday game as well at Husky Ballpark, but won 8-2 on Sunday. This put them at 7-7, and at this point another Pac-10 Championship started to seem out of reach.
Next, the Cougs came to town, and the Beavers lost a series they felt they should have won. The Cougars entered the series tied for last place in the Pac-10, but beat the Beavers 5-4 on Friday, and then again 5-3 on Mother's Day. The Beavers won the Saturday game 11-5.
The Arizona State Sun Devils were Oregon State's next opponent, and even though the Beavers had beaten them 12-4 earlier in the season, the Sun Devils took care of business and swept the Beavers in Corvallis. The Beavers could not get the bats going, and recored nine hits between all three games. Arizona State, who is one of the premiere offensive clubs in the country, took care of the Beavers no problem. This put the Beavers at 0-6 on the season against the Arizona Schools, and 3-3 on the year against the California schools, heading into a series against UCLA.
The Beavers needed a series win in Los Angeles to make themselves look more attractive to the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee, and that's exactly what they did. OSU won Friday's game 10-7, and Saturday's game 13-5. They smacked the ball around against UCLA's #1 and #2 starters, getting a combined 25 hits in the two games. The Beavers couldn't get the bats going against their #3 guy though, as they dropped the final game of the regular season by a score of 5-2.
Mitch Canham was the leader on and off the field, and he also lead the team in batting average (.346), Runs Scored (48), Home Runs (9), RBI (53), Slugging Percentage (.581), Walks, Hit by Pitches, Total Bases, and On Base Percentage. Darwin Barney, the other major returning starter from last year's championship team, leads the team in At bats (229), Hits (67), and Doubles (18). Between those two junior leaders, they hold the lead in every statistical category I have access too except for four. Chris Hopkins leads the team in triples, Lissman leads in RBI's (tied with Canham, actually), and negatively, Drew George leads in strikeouts.
This Oregon State team is one that had been one of the top fielding teams in the nation all year long. At season's end, they maintain a .978 percentage, tied for first with Arizona State.
When I think about the Beaver defense, I automatically think of Joey Wong. Through the course of 79 put outs and 154 assists, Joey has only had two errors. That's an overall percentage of .991, and he's only a freshman. In my opinion, he is the best defensive player on our team, just in front of Darwin Barney. Joey will be a great shortstop for our team next year, when/if Darwin goes pro.
Darwin's fielding numbers are a little less impressive as Joey's, but still notable. He's had 98 put outs and 167 assists with 15 errors, for an overall percentage of .946 . Compare the numbers, and that's the worst percentage on the team, but Darwin is playing one of the most demanding positions on the field. Add the fact that he's the one that receives the most ground balls, and it all evens out.
Darwin Barney and Mike Lissman are the two Beavers who have started every game. Joey Wong has played in every game, but he's come off the bench in 12. Still, the feat of starting every game is almost as prestigious as earning perfect attendance in grade school. Sometimes you have to go to school sick, and Darwin even had to start a game in left field because of a sore thumb that made it difficult for him to backhand grounders. How's that for an analogy?
I hope the team carries the momentum they created with a series victory on into Virginia, and I wish them the best.