When the Oregon State baseball team dropped a 5-1 decision to Portland at Ron Tonkin Field in Hillsboro on March 26, the Beavers were in the midst of a 3-4 stretch that had some wondering if the reigning national champions would be in position to play for another title this season.
Since that hiccup, however, the Beavers have rolled off 12 wins in 15 games and have gone 11-1 in Pac-12 contests.
That puts the Beavers at 14-4 overall, a half game back of first-place Stanford (13-2). The teams meet on The Farm in the second-to-last weekend of the season.
Oregon State has won its last five Pac-12 series, including a sweep of Arizona this past weekend at Goss Stadium.
The Beavers rallied in the first game, an 8-4 win on Thursday, then swept a doubleheader on Saturday, crushing the Wildcats 15-3 in the opener before pulling away for a 9-3 victory in the nightcap.
It was the third time this season the Beavers have swept both games of a doubleheader — Nebraska, Utah and Arizona.
“It feels really good,” Ryan Oberg said late Saturday night. “I think that speaks a lot to what our program is about, which is toughness. … We really value toughness and we breed that in practice every day in the fall and winter and it shows out here in these long cold days.”
The Beavers (28-8-1 overall) made the plays when needed this past weekend. They scored two in the seventh on Thursday to tie the game, then played four in the eighth after two outs and with nobody on base.
Jake Harvey delivered the go-ahead run on a triple after Tyler Malone walked. After an intentional walk to Adley Rutschman, Ober delivered the back-breaker, a three-home homer to make it 8-4.
In Saturday’s second game, the Wildcats had a chance to do some damage down 5-3 in the sixth, loading the bases with no outs.
But Jake Mulholland came on and got a strikeout, pop up and fly out to deep left to end the threat. The Beavers then scored three times in the bottom of the frame with Elliott Willy delivering a two-out, two-run single to essentially seal the victory.
“I thought the key to the game was when Mulholland came in with the bases loaded and we got out of it,” coach Pat Bailey said. “I heard them say the player of the game was one of the position players and I said to (pitching) coach (Nate) Yeskie the player of the game for me was Jake Mulholland.
“He’s having a great year again. Jake’s been money ever since he’s been here.”
Mulholland’s escape job was something the Beavers’ pitchers were able to do for the most part against a powerful Arizona offense that was averaging nine runs a game entering the series — the Wildcats scored just 10 total runs in the series.
Arizona was only 4 for 26 with runners in scoring position in the series and 5 for 30 with two outs.
“It’s huge and it goes back to the whole mental toughness thing,” Ober said of the pitcher getting key outs. “These guys, they really bear down when it matters. We’ll play defense behind them but we trust them to throw strikes and get outs. We really appreciate their hard work for us.”
Meanwhile, the Beavers were 14 for 45 with runners in scoring position and 14 for 36 with two outs.
“Our two-strike hitting and our two-out hitting has been pretty good for about three weeks now,” Bailey said.
Oregon State was stellar in the field against the Wildcats, not committing an error in the three games. That came on the heels of a series at Arizona State that saw the Beavers make just two — on pickoff attempts by the pitchers.
“We’re just playing great defense,” Bailey said. “And it’s fun to watch. I said at the beginning of the year I thought our defense was suffocating and that’s how I feel right now. I feel like we’re playing such great defense it’s just hard to score runs off of us.”
Freshman Jake Dukart had a solid Saturday as he started both games and went 5 for 7 with two RBIs.
“Yeah I struggled a little bit early and I had to kind of wait my turn and finally got the chance last weekend (at Arizona State) and contributed to the team,” Dukart said. “I had a nice day at the yard (Saturday).”
Added Bailey: “The last two weekend’s Jake’s had great games for us. He’s a really good defender and he’s starting to hit.”
Bailey said he is happier with the offense as of late, something he knew would eventually get on track.
“I kept telling people, please be patient with our offense,” he said. “We’ve just got guys that have to get Division I at-bats into them. The hitting is getting better every week and I was really proud of us offensively this weekend. I think we had more walks than strikeouts every game.”
Ober said the experience is starting to pay off.
“We have a lot of young guys who haven’t had a lot of experience and we’ve gotten through a little over half the season now so guys are getting comfortable,” he said. “We’re all really talented, the talent pool this year is really spread out so I think guys are getting more comfortable and confident and the sky’s the limit with this group. We’ve got a lot of young talent and good few years ahead.”
The Beavers hit the road for two nonconference games at Nevada on Monday (6 p.m.) and Tuesday (noon), before returning to Goss Stadium for a three-game Pac-12 series with Washington State beginning at 5:35 p.m. Friday.
“Our team’s growing up,” Dukart said. “We’re going to take every game and treat it like our last. These games, little wins, little losses add up in the end and come down to seeding (for the) regionals.”