Last year, Oregon St. went to PK Park needing just 1 win in the season ending series at Oregon, and promptly got swept by the Ducks, losing the Pac-10 title and a "National" seed as a result. This year, it was Oregon's turn to travel to Goss Stadium, and leading the conference race as they did so. Once again, the home-standing underdog pulled off a sweep, when the Beavers posted a 5-0 shutout in the Sunday finale, and when both Arizona and then UCLA pulled out late wins over their rivals, it was the Ducks' turn to see the Bruins run a flag up the pole.
Technically, the Wildcats will share the first ever Pac-12 title, but the Bruins won 2 of 3 in Tucson, and will take the bragging rights, along with their first ever repeat baseball conference championship, again with an assist from within the state of Oregon.
Oregon St.'s leadoff hitter Joey Matthews was hit by a pitch to start both the first and third innings, and went on to score both times, on an RBI single, and then an RBI double, by Michael Conforto, which would prove to be the undoing of Oregon starter Jeff Gold. It also locked up the Pac-12 RBI title for Conforto, who finished the regular season with 71, an Oregon St. single season record.
But it was senior Taylor Starr who was the unexpected star of the game. After using usual Sunday starter Dan Child in relief to get the win Saturday that ensured both a Pac-12 series and season series win for Oregon St., a win Oregon St. head Coach Pat Casey felt "we really needed to get", Starr, who has been the midweek starter in the latter part of the season got the call.
And though he wasn't "sharp", allowing Oregon to get their leadoff hitter on base multiple times, Starr allowed only 7 hits and took advantage of good defense behind him, including multiple double plays, to work an out into the 7th inning.
Even after Oregon's Brett Hambright singled to lead off the 7th, Oregon St. pitching coach Nate Yeski allowed Starr to take on one more hitter, and after getting a strike out of Connor Hoffman, exit to a standing ovation from the paid crowd of 2,971, with a 2-0 lead.
Starr also got a pie in the face from Matt Boyd for his efforts.
Starr, who started both the mid-week, non-conference games at Oregon earlier in the year, improved to 5-2 for the season, and 2-1 against the Ducks (Starr got the win in the Beavers' 7-1 victory, and also the loss in the Ducks' subsequent 3-2 win), a remarkable way to end his Goss Stadium career, which saw Starr come back from 3 major shoulder surgeries, including 2 "Tommy John" ligament replacement operations.
Scott Schultz took over and was masterful, allowing only 1 hit the rest of the way, including 2 9th inning strikeouts.
Oregon St. added an insurance run in the bottom of the 7th when Ryan Dunn singled to center field to drive in Tyler Smith, and after Oregon closer Jimmy Sherfy hit Ryan Barnes with a pitch to load the bases, Kavin Keyes blew the save opportunity for Schultz by driving a single to left that scored Danny Hayes and Dunn, making it 5-0 Oregon St., a lead too large to qualify for a "save". Not that Schultz objected.
The versatile Dunn, another of Oregon St.'s seniors, turned in multiple defensive gems, and was the only player to get a hit, score a run, and record an RBI all in the game.
Oregon St. has still only lost to Oregon once at Goss Stadium since the Ducks re-instated baseball, and the Beavers took 4 of 5 games this season from their rivals.
Oregon (42-17, 19-11) entered the game knowing they would host an NCAA Regional next week, and that Oregon St. (38-38, 18-12) wouldn't, but the Ducks saw what had been a lock to be a "National" seed, and an opportunity to host a Super Regional the following week, become precarious by being swept.
And with the 3 losses, the Pac-12 title was lost when Arizona (38-18, 20-10) pulled out an 8-7 win over Arizona St. (36-20, 18-12) on a 2 out, walk off RBI single by Johnny FIeld.
Shortly thereafter, UCLA (42-14, 20-10) completed a weekend sweep of USC (23-32, 8-22) with a 7-6 win. The Bruins bounced back after the Trojans tied the game at 5-5 in the top of the 8th, when a wild pitch on a swinging strike for what would have been the third out, with a bases loaded 2 RBI single by Pat Valiaka. But UCLA still had to hold off a 9th inning USC rally, as pinch hitter Sean Spear singled to drive in Kevin Swick, but Bruin closer Scott Griggs got 2 infield ground outs with 2 Trojans on base to pull out the win.
UCLA and Arizona will both host NCAA Regionals next week as well, as the 16 hosts were announced prior to the day's games. The 8 "National Seeds" and the rest of the field will be announced, as well as the complete brackets, tomorrow morning at 9 AM PDT on ESPNU.
Stanford (38-16, 18-12) will also get to host a regional, and the Cardinal pulled into a 3 way tie for 4th in the Pac-12 with Oregon St. and Arizona St. with a 5-3 win over California (29-25, 12-18), avoiding being swept by the Golden Bears, and saving the NCAA the embarrassment of awarding a regional to a 6th place team. As it is, the fact that Oregon St. took 2 of 3 from Stanford, and finished with tied with the Cardinal in the conference and for overall wins, yet was passed over in favor of 'Furd for a regional irked Casey, something to remember the next time the Beavers encounter the Cardinal.
Arizona St. is ineligible for post season play, due to NCAA sanctions.
Washington St. (28-28, 12-18) avoided being swept by Washington (31-24, 13-17) with a 3-2 win that ensured that even the 9th place team in the conference did not have a losing season. Utah (14-42, 7-23) was not as fortunate, though, losing 3-2 to Cal-St Bakersfield. The Utes finished the season with a 7 game losing streak.
The Sunday win made Oregon St. 12-2 on Sundays, and gave the Beavers their second Pac-12 sweep of the season, along with their sweep of California in the first series of the conference season. Oregon St. won their last 4 weekend series, and 6 of their last 7. It should earn the Beavers a second seed, but their RPI, hovering around 30 entering the day, is such that avoiding a "National Seed" in the regionals is unlikely.
But returning the "favor" the Ducks administered last year is bound to give the Beavers, who closed the season with 4 consecutive wins, and 7 in their last 8 games, as well as 9 of their last 11 Pac-12 games, momentum going into the post-season.