EUGENE — Some of the biggest goals of his team aren’t lost on Jake Pfennigs, even for a freshman still trying to find his way in college baseball.
Pfennigs played a role Saturday afternoon in helping Oregon State reach a goal, winning another Pac 12 baseball series, with three-plus scoreless innings in relief.
The Beavers made an early lead standup for the second straight game and the pitching held down Oregon enough for an 8-5 win in game two of the Civil War series at PK Park.
Pfennigs, a 6-foot-7 right-hander, understood the magnitude of the situation he faced when he entered Saturday’s game in the sixth inning. Not just with OSU chasing the conference title that escaped the Beavers last year, but Oregon had two runners on and was threatening to cut into a four-run deficit.
“It was huge, especially in a game like this when we’re at the top of the Pac and we’re trying to win the Pac,” Pfennigs said. “I knew it was huge, so I just got my mind right in the bullpen and came out and tried to do what I was capable of doing.”
California beat visiting Stanford 18-2 on Saturday, knocking the Cardinal out of a first-place tie with OSU in the conference standings. So the Beavers (33-14-1, 19-4) enter Sunday’s noon finale with the Ducks (24-24, 8-15) alone in first with seven Pac-12 games left.
The Ducks scored a run with a runner Pfennigs inherited but nothing more. The freshman remained on the mound before giving way to Jake Mulholland for the final two outs.
With one on and one out, Mulholland drew a double-play grounder from Tanner Smith, who had homered earlier in the game.
“I’m proud of our guys. I’m really proud of them. Absolutely,” Beavers coach Pat Bailey said. “I thought Pfennigs was outstanding today. He was 90 to 95 miles an hour. He just gets better every weekend he goes out.”
Pfennigs allowed one hit with three strikeouts and a walk while recording 10 outs.
Oregon State is without pitching ace Kevin Abel and prominent reliever Mitchell Verburg due to injuries. Two others, Brandon Eisert and Grant Gambrell, are being sidelined to get rest. Without them available, the roles of everyone else on the staff have been magnified.
That includes Dylan Pearce, who started for the third time in 12 days Saturday.
The senior right-hander pitched into the sixth inning, giving up seven hits and five earned runs with five strikeouts and three walks.
“Dylan did a really good job for us,” Bailey said. “He didn’t have his best stuff today and he left some balls out over the plate with two strikes on guys.”
With the help of some early offense, Pearce threw with the lead his entire stint.
Arizona jumped on Oregon starter Cullen Kafka a week earlier, allowing the sophomore righty to record just three outs while giving up eight hits and 11 runs (five earned) before being pulled.
The Beavers did much the same Saturday.
OSU scored three times in the first inning on two walks and two hits. Ryan Ober followed walks to Alex McGarry and Adley Rutschman with a double to right-center to score one. Tyler Malone grounded a single to center to bring the next two around.
Kafka walked two more after the three runs scored but the Beavers couldn’t capitalize.
Malone, who had two hits and three RBIs, said the initial lead was a big factor.
“I remember back in the day my dad would always want to be visitors when we played just to get the runs going,” he said. “It’s kind of the same thing. A game’s a game, and momentum is huge and it’s huge to get those runs early.”
Oregon got a run back in the bottom half on a Smith home run.
The Beavers added a run in each of its next two at-bats on RBI singles by Malone and Kyler McMahan. Kafka was lifted after the run scored in the third. The Ducks made it 5-2 in the third with three straight one-out singles.
Oregon State got to UO reliever Cole Stringer in the fifth for two runs. Malone’s infield single and a Preston Jones bases-loaded walk each brought one home.
Oregon got two back in the bottom to keep it interesting. Spencer Steer’s one-out double scored both.
But Pfennigs sent the Ducks down in order in the seventh and eighth, and he and Mulholland finished the job in the ninth.
Bailey said he and pitching coach Nate Yeskie would talk about determining a starting pitcher for Sunday on Saturday’s bus ride home.
With the win, OSU clinched its eighth straight Pac-12 series since losing two of three at UCLA to open the conference schedule.
Malone said there can be a balance between focusing on the short term, like the next game ahead, and what’s possible further down the road.
“You take it one day at a time but also at the same time you’ve got to understand what your goal is and what you’re striving for,” he said. “When you have your sights set on that, the day to day, practice, things start falling into place.”
Rutschman walked four times (three intentionally), extending his single-season school record to 63. Michael Conforto set the previous record of 55 in 2014.
Many in the crowd of 4,130 — which included a large contingent in orange and black — cheered when the Ducks decided to pitch to Rutschman with one out and none on in the ninth. Rutschman grounded out.
Philip stayed hot at the plate, going 3 for 6 with a run scored.
The junior shortstop is now 8 of 19 (.421) with a home run, two doubles and two RBIs in four games back in the lineup after missing the previous 13 contests with a hamstring injury.