It was a weekend of almosts in the middle of the Pac-10. A couple of the middle Pac-10 teams hoping to make a statement that they are really top-notch teams came close and showed well, but they came up just a bit short of their goals. Even so, the conference proved yet again that they’re a force to be reckoned with excellence at the top and with surprising depth.
The real question developing now is can anyone challenge the top two? The Pac-10 has two undefeated teams in UCLA and Arizona St., both of whom have looked extremely impressive. There are multiple strong teams behind them, though, so both better be ready for a challenge come conference play because it is only March and nothing is determined in March.
UCLA at Whataburger Classic
UCLA benefited from a home-cooked schedule in the early going and some questioned their hot start because of it. Of the Bruins’ first 10 games, only two were played away from Jackie Robinson Stadium and those two were at Dodger Stadium and at Long Beach St., neither of which is more than a 45 minute drive away. With the team heading to Corpus Christi, Texas for the Whataburger Classic, they were leaving their comforts of home and getting the challenge many wanted to see them face.
The Bruins opened up the weekend versus Texas A&M Corpus Christi and pounded out 17 hits versus the Islanders in a 11-3 win, but it was the pitching that captured headlines. Gerrit Cole struck out 15 batters in his 7.2 innings of work, allowing just two runs (one earned) on five hits to give him 41 strikeouts in 25.2 innings of work on the year. The bullpen then put the Islanders away with three of their four outs coming by way of strikeout.
Things got a bit tougher in game two of the weekend, but not for the starting pitching. Trevor Bauer matched Cole’s 15 strikeouts in his eight-plus inning start allowing just two runs on three hits versus Mississippi St. UCLA took a 5-0 lead thanks to a pair of the hits and run by Blair Dunlap and looked to be cruising, but the Bulldogs got two in the ninth and brought the tying run to the plate in the inning. The Bruins got the out they needed to get out of the ballgame and picked up a win over a SEC team, which is usually a RPI helper no matter how good the team.
The final game of the weekend was the Bruins’ toughest as they matched up versus Oklahoma, who entered 15-1 and winners of ten straight. The Sooners scored first, but Rob Rasmussen made sure that was the only run he allowed in his six innings by striking out seven. The Bruins got three runs the inning after Oklahoma got theirs to take a 3-1 lead and then tacked on two more in the ninth, punctuated by Niko Gallego’s straight steal of home. Dan Klein allowed one run, but picked up the six-out save for the Bruins to give them another 5-2 win and a perfect 13-0 record.
Auburn vs. Arizona St.
Falling behind 7-2 doesn’t mean much when you can roll off six in an inning. That’s what ASU did to Auburn in game one of the Sun Devils’ biggest test of the year. It was all offense for the Sun Devils again in game two, but this time it was a 16 run explosion to Auburn’s seven runs on the back of Zack McPhee’s 2-4, three RBI, two run showing. The offense was not done in game three, an 8-3 win thanks to a 3-5, three RBI performance by Riccio Torrez. The win put Arizona St. at an impeccable 15-0 this year with one solid sweep now that the Tigers were put away.
Washington St. at Texas A&M
So close, but not good enough. Washington St. looked to make a statement in College Station, TX, but they just couldn’t get it done and had a nasty injury to go along with it. Leading 2-1 in the seventh, the Cougars gave up a three spot to give away their lead. Wazzu put the tying run at third with one-out in the ninth, but couldn’t plate him and lost, 4-3. The Cougs took a 6-0 lead in game two and held on for a 7-5 win, but it was the injury to Kyle Johnson that was the focus. Johnson collided with a teammate in the outfield and his head hit the knee of his teammate, giving him a very serious concussion that required him to be stretchered off the field. Thankfully, it appears as if he will be fine after some time off. The final game of the series was the second one-run contest that the Cougs would drop on the weekend, this time 6-5, to close out a weekend that was almost fantastic and instead a step short.
Cal at Rice
The young Bears came out flying in Houston, but couldn’t finish things out. Three run homers by Chadd Krist and Tony Renda led the way in the Bears’ 8-6 win over Rice to kick off the four-game set. Cal didn’t have the same power in the next game, but Justin Jones allowed four runs while going all nine innings to top the Owls, 6-4. Things were going well in game three as the Bears led 7-2, but the bullpen fell apart and allowed 12 runs in the sixth, six in the seventh and six more in the eighth got a 26-11 loss. Cal got another mid-innings lead in the final game of the series by jumping ahead 3-2, but a two run fifth and three run seventh did the Bears in for a 7-4 loss and series split.
Southern Cal at Hawaii
Those Trojans couldn’t get things going, but they did in Hawaii after a rough game one. After taking a 2-0 lead to the seventh, USC committed three errors in the inning to let in four runs. Hawaii tacked on four more runs for good measure to win it 8-2. Saturday was the Ben Mount show as the starter tossed a complete game, one run, five hit game with eight strikeouts and no walks to lead the Trojans to a 3-1 victory. More good pitching helped out in the series finale, but Ricky Oropesa’s 5-5, three run, two RBI showing stole the show in a 12-2 win that gave SC the series.
Oregon St. at Oregon St. Tournament
The competition wasn’t overly strong, but the Beavers were pushed. Trailing 4-2 in the bottom of the ninth versus Utah, Matt Boyd roped a double with the bases loaded, scoring all three runs for a 5-4 OSU victory. They didn’t wait as long for their comeback when they played Portland, but they did trail 5-2 before scoring two in the fifth and two in the sixth before the pitching locked down a 6-5 win over the Pilots. Trailing was once again the theme when Oregon St. played Portland again, but trailing 2-0 in the fifth, the Beavers scored six, then tacked on three more to finish off Portland, 9-2.
Seattle at Oregon
Tyler Anderson shut Seattle down in the four-game series opener, throwing eight shutout innings with 11 strikeouts to help the Ducks take a 5-0 win. More good pitching helped out in the next game as Zack Thornton struck out 10 and allowed just two runs in 7.2 innings of work. He was backed up by Eddie Rodriguez’s 3-3 effort with a run and RBI to lead the Ducks to a 7-3 victory. Game three went only seven innings, but the Oregon pitching staff still allowed just four hits and no runs as the Ducks clipped Seattle, 4-0, and take the series. The pitching wasn’t as good in the final game of the series, but three errors didn’t help either as Oregon dropped the game, 6-4.
Washington at BYU
Snow was Washington’s best friend. All four Huskies pitchers in the series opener versus BYU surrendered at least two runs and Washington had no chance in a 10-4 loss to kick things off. The pitching was even worse to start game two. The first two Washington pitchers threw a combined 1.2 innings and allowed a whopping 15 runs in that time. Even though the Huskies got 6.1 innings of one run ball the rest of the way, things were already over and Washington lost, 16-4. The Huskies got off to a 12-3 lead in the final game of the series, but BYU scored seven runs in the sixth and had all the momentum. Luckily for Washington, the snow was too much to deal with at that point and the game was called so Washington could salvage the series with one win.
Northern Colorado at Arizona
It is home cooking at it’s best in Tucson where Arizona continues their stretch of 26 straight at home to open the year. Playing teams like Northern Colorado helps too. Joey Rickard was the star in the first game, going 4-5 with four RBI in an easy 9-1 win for the Wildcats. Things were tough in game two with Arizona trailing 5-4 in the eighth, but a three run inning allowed them to withstand Northern Colorado’s tally in the ninth for a 7-5 victory. Things weren’t nearly as dramatic in the Sunday game thanks to Seth Mejias-Brean’s five RBI as Arizona cruised for a 18-4 win to complete the series sweep.