A culmination of several events led to Oregon State’s historic 2017 baseball season.
The ascendance of Jake Thompson may have been the biggest factor.
Thompson, who is now flourishing in the minor leagues, went 14-1 with a 1.96 earned run average a season ago as the Beavers made the College World Series and finished with a school-record 56 wins. The right-hander from Florence was the team’s No. 3 starter, leading OSU to a 10-0 record in Pac-12 series finales.
Without their departed Sunday stopper, the second-ranked Beavers (42-9-1, 18-8-1) have experienced mixed results this spring behind dependable veterans Luke Heimlich and Bryce Fehmel. OSU is just 3-5-1 in Pac-12 finales entering its matchup with No. 18 UCLA (35-17, 18-9), the final regular-season series for both teams.
“We don’t have a tremendous amount of depth in our starting pitching,” coach Pat Casey said prior to Tuesday’s practice. “It would be nice to have Jake Thompson running out there pitching, but that’s not the reality of baseball.”
Heimlich (13-1, 2.69 ERA) will throw Thursday’s opener, which is scheduled for a 4:05 p.m. first pitch at Goss Stadium. Fehmel (8-1, 2.93) is slated to go Friday with freshman Kevin Abel (3-1, 4.44) likely getting another chance in Saturday’s finale.
Abel worked four shutout innings last week at USC before running into trouble in the fifth. The right-hander allowed two soft singles and then mishandled a bunt to load the bases with no outs.
He was relieved after 4⅓ innings, surrendering three runs (two earned) on five hits in an 8-0 loss.
“You couldn’t say it was just one aspect of the game, like pitching or hitting. Honestly, it was both,” Zak Taylor said of the USC shutout. “Kevin gave us a great few innings in a start. From an offensive perspective we’ve got to put up some runs.”
Added Casey: “I thought Abel threw real well last week. His issues had nothing to do with pitching.”
Grant Gambrell opened Pac-12 play as OSU’s Sunday starter and regularly struggled to pitch deep into games. After Gambrell’s poor showing at Washington State, Abel has started the last two finales against Stanford and USC.
If necessary, Casey said Abel would’ve been used in relief at USC with Christian Chamberlain likely throwing the finale. Casey officially listed Saturday’s starter as TBA, but noted that “I don’t know anybody else that would be a guy to put in that position.
“We’re not a team right now that has three starters, and we’ve been kind of like that,” Casey added. “Sometimes when you’ve got (Ben) Wetzler, (Jace) Fry and (Andrew) Moore running out there, it’s an easy decision … but we don’t have that luxury this year.”
Taylor, Nobach come through
While cruising to series-opening victories of 4-0 and 8-1 at USC, the bottom of Oregon State’s vaunted lineup came to life.
Kyle Nobach went a combined 6 for 7 with two doubles, one RBI and four runs scored while Taylor had three hits, including a big run-scoring single in the opener.
OSU needed the contributions as Trevor Larnach and Adley Rutschman were a combined 1 for 18 with eight strikeouts in the wins.
“That’s the crazy thing about our team,” Nobach said. “You look at how many different guys we roll in and out of the lineup … it shows how good of a team we are. Everybody is just ready for their chance, and that’s why we’re a great team.”
The Beavers lead the Pac-12 and rank third nationally with a team batting average of .324.
Oregon State is used to playing in front of large quantities of scouts and spectators, but Casey said the USC trip was on another level.
“There are so many things that are out there for kids today, we talk about it all the time,” Casey said. “We were swarmed by scouts and agents and people, and it was like we were at the baseball world of Disneyland down there.
“In our bullpen, behind our dugout … you’ve got to block those things out and you’ve got to play. We’ve got some kids that are high-profile kids and those things are things they’ve got to handle, and they’ve done a very good job of it thus far. I have to give them credit because there’s a ton of distractions out there.”