5th ranked Oregon State had to scratch and claw to escape with a 7-6 win over Ball State in the season opener today in Surprise, AZ. The Beavers used a pair of 3 run innings to get ahead, but then had to hold off a Cardinal rally and a late threat to notch the win.
Oregon State's pitching was uneven, but the real problem was the familiar one for the last several seasons; not getting timely hits when the opportunity to break a game open presented itself. The Beavers did hammer out 13 hits, but stranded 10 runners, 4 in scoring position, and at least one in each of the first 6 at bats.
Ball State, the preseason pick for second place in the Mid-American Conference (MAC) West division, proved to be Bat and Ball State, touching Beaver pitching for 6 runs on 7 hits, and got to Oregon State's ace Drew Rasmussen for 5 hits, as well as 3 extra free runners, on a pair of walks and a hit by pitch.
And the Cardinal didn't waste any time, as leadoff hitter Alex Maloney tripled on the second pitch of the game, and scored on a sacrifice fly by Ryan Spaulding 3 pitches later for a 1-0 lead.
Oregon State got a good day from the top of their order though, and got the run back in the bottom of the 1st. Christian Donahue led off with a single, advanced on an errant pickoff attempt, and scored on freshman Nick Madrigal's sacrifice fly.
Ball St. struck again in the top of the 3rd,, and it began with Spaulding drawing a 1 out walk from Rasmussen. Alex Call followed with a single, and Jarett Rindfleisch drove Spaulding in with a fly to center for a 2-1 lead.
The Beavers seized the lead with a 3 run 4th, but it wasn't as big an inning as it could have been, considering that Kyle Nobach and redshirt sophomore Jack Anderson led off with back to back singles.
But Oregon State coach Pat Casey resorted to small-ball, and expended 2 outs getting 1 run to tie the game. Fortunately, the top of the order came through though, as Donahue doubled to score Anderson, and Madrigal singled for his second RBI of the day, driving in Donahue. Madrigal, who got the start at second, had a strong day, going 4 for 4 in addition to his sacrifice.
Trevor Morrison followed with a single, but the threat ended with 2 runners on when K.J. Harrison grounded out.
Ball St. edged back within 1 run in the top of the 6th, after Rasmussen walked leadoff hitter Rindfleisch, who advanced on an infield ground out, and scored on Scott Tyler's single.
That ended Rasmussen's day after 98 pitches. Yet another Oregon State freshman, Eric Parnow made his Beaver debut, and got out of the inning by getting a line out.
"Drew had good velo(city)," Casey said, "but wasn't very sharp."
Oregon State appeared to take control with 3 runs in the bottom of the 6th, again keyed by the top of the order. Donahue led off with a walk, and Madrigal followed with an infield single. Morrison couldn't come through, but Harrison drove a 2 RBI double down the left field line, and scored after advancing on Logan Ice's single, and an infield out by Nobach.
The failure to put up even more runs in the 4th and some shaky pitching quickly did away with that feeling of control that a surprisingly good Surprise crowd of 2,231, most of them Oregon State fans, might have had.
Parnow, who had closed out the 6th promptly walked back to back Ball State batters to end his afternoon. And though John Pomeroy got back to back fly ball outs, he then hit Rindfleisch with a pitch, uncorked a wild pitch to give up a run, and then a 2 RBI single by Caleb Stayton, and it was a 1 run game again.
That 7-6 score would turn out to be the final, but the excitement wasn't over.
Freshman Bryce Fehmel did a good job in relief of Pomeroy, as Oregon State pitching coach Nate Yeski showed no hesitation to go with another of the Beaver new recruits, aided by a throw-out by Ice on a steal attempt.
But the Beavers couldn't missed a chance for an insurance run in the bottom of the 7th when Madrigal hit freshman Cadyn Grenier, who got the start at third base, with a line drive, which put Grenier out for interference.
Oregon State went to Max Engelbrekt, who missed all of last season, to close out the game, but Spaulding immediately doubled off the wall in center to put the tieing run in scoring position. Engelbrekt bounced back though, getting an infield ground out, and then back to back strikeouts to seal the win, and get the save.
Rasmussen got the win, and Ball State starter Zach Plesac, who left after 4 innings and 85 pitches, got the loss.
In addition to Madrigal's good day, Donahue was 2 of 3 with a walk, and scored 3 times, and Morrison went 2 for 4. Harrison, despite striking out twice, had the 2 RBI double.
"I liked what the front of the order did," Casey said.
Things weren't as rosy in the bottom half of the order though, where the Beavers went 4 for 15, though they did have the bat taken out of their hands several times. Grenier did draw 3 walks, exhibiting a good eye.
Oregon State used a lot of bench, with 4 subs and 4 pitchers out of the bullpen all seeing action.
Casey got his 755 career coaching win to kick off his 22nd season, but will be looking for a better performance overall as the Beaver's stay in Surprise continues.
"We're going to have to get a lot better," Casey commented. "We walked someone in every inning they scored in, and you don't win too often doing that. And we need to get more runs out of getting 13 hits."
However, if both pitching and offense were up and down, defense was solid. That's especially notable, given there were 4 new faces, 3 of them freshmen, in the lineup. Playing not only error-less, but making some plays to bail out the pitching went a long ways in getting the close win.
Oregon State will return to action tomorrow afternoon at 2 PM AST (1 PM PST) against Utah Valley of the WAC Conference.