Regardless of the opponent, Oregon State baseball coach Pat Casey doesn’t focus on overall records and early-season struggles.
It’s doubly true when the team in question is Cal State Fullerton, a traditional college baseball superpower that has two College World Series appearances in the past three seasons. The Titans, who are off to a disappointing 3-8 start, haven’t missed the NCAA tournament since 1991.
In a rematch of last year’s CWS opener, Fullerton is heading north this weekend for a highly-anticipated three-game nonconference series with No. 2 Oregon State (13-0) at Goss Stadium. Luke Heimlich will deliver the first pitch of Friday’s opener at 5:35 p.m.
“When I saw it on the schedule, I was like ‘man, that’s awesome,’” senior outfielder Jack Anderson said of the Fullerton games. “I haven’t been a part of a nonconference series like that here, so it’s going to be a cool environment. It’s going to be something special that we haven’t experienced this early in the season.”
The Beavers, who have won a Division I-leading 22 consecutive home games dating back to last year, overcame a four-run deficit en route to a 6-5 victory against the Titans in Omaha, Nebraska. Fullerton wound up going two-and-out at TD Ameritrade Park while OSU finished 2-2.
A consensus preseason top 25 pick, the Titans were swept by Stanford on opening weekend as part of a 1-7 start to the 2018 campaign. Fullerton rebounded last week to win a series at Tulane, but seven players — including four regulars — were suspended for the finale after missing curfew Saturday night.
Casey doesn’t expect the Titans’ struggles to last.
“You’re always trying to play good clubs,” he said. “These are good RPI games for everybody involved and Fullerton is Fullerton, they always are. I don’t care what their record is, it comes down to how we play.”
OSU hasn’t hosted a marquee nonconference series since Tennessee visited Goss Stadium during the second week of the 2010 season. The Beavers took two-of-three from the Volunteers.
In 2008, Georgia earned a 2-1 series win over OSU in Portland.
Casey said the Beavers have reached out to multiple SEC teams about scheduling more home-and-home series. Each school has declined the offer.
“Right now it’s tough to get people (to come) here,” Casey said. “There’s so many teams around them and I think people are afraid of coming up here with the weather early because you can’t do it during the middle of the season.
“I wish they would create, like they have with the Big Ten/Pac-12 Challenge, I wish they’d do that with SEC or ACC and I wish they’d force the hand of some people, good conferences to play one another.”
But the Beavers were able to get a home-and-home series with Fullerton, a perennial power in the Big West Conference. OSU will make a return trip to Orange County in a couple years.
Like most west coast teams, Fullerton prides itself on pitching and defense.
Starters Colton Eastman (1-1, 3.12 ERA) and Andrew Quezada (0-2, 6.61) are both rated top 100 prospects by Baseball America for June’s draft. No. 3 starter Blake Workman (0-2, 2.92), talented freshman Tanner Bibee (0-1, 5.79) and star closer Brett Conine (5.14 ERA, one save) are all quality arms.
Eastman, who relieved departed ace Connor Seabold in the sixth inning of last year’s CWS opener, struggled to find the zone on a muggy Nebraska afternoon. The right-hander didn’t give up a hit but walked four batters and allowed four runs in two-thirds of an inning.
Workman pitched the final 2⅓, allowing one run on five hits with two strikeouts and no walks.
“It’s definitely nice to know you’ve had success against a team,” said Anderson, who was 3 for 3 with the game-tying RBI versus Fullerton. “But just like we’ve improved since last year, those pitchers have as well.”
Jake Mulholland was nearly perfect in his first CWS outing, tossing 4⅓ innings of hitless relief with three strikeouts and one walk. Mulholland entered the game with OSU trailing 5-1 and exited with a 6-5 lead in the ninth.
The lefty recalled having solid command of all four pitches that day. The other details remain fuzzy.
“It was weird because I don’t even remember a whole lot of it from during the game,” Mulholland said. “I kind of blacked out a little bit, just so much nerves and excitement. I just couldn’t wait to get after it. And then I was asking my guys ‘hey, what happened out there?’ after the game. I had to watch a lot of film to remember what kind of pitches I was throwing.”
Sunshine is in the forecast for this weekend’s showdown at Goss Stadium.
The late innings of Friday’s game are sure to be chilly, but temperatures of about 60 degrees are expected on Saturday and Sunday. The Beavers couldn’t ask for better weather in early March, but Fullerton’s roster chock-full of Southern Californians might feel differently.
“Being from California, I know they are going to be pretty cold,” said OSU’s Trevor Larnach, a Bay Area native. “We’ve got the heaters (in our dugout) and I don’t think they do. It’s in our favor being that it’s at home and cold and all that, but we’ve still got to play good baseball.”