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Inside the Pac-12: Pitching, defense play their role in Oregon State remaining atop conference

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Fifth-ranked Washington came to Goss Stadium with designs on the Pac-12 championship. The Huskies have followed a simple strategy most of the season – strong starting pitching, solid defense, timely offense – and that had them a game behind host Oregon State entering the weekend series.

However, second-ranked OSU has followed that template for a decade of success unparalleled in school history. The Beavers rebounded from a Friday night loss to blank Washington over the final 18 innings of the series.

First there was Jace Fry’s complete-game seven-hitter on Saturday that OSU won 1-0 with a walk-off RBI double by freshman catcher Logan Ice. That game featured a “who-will-blink-first” pitcher’s duel between Fry and Washington’s Tyler Davis. Fry never blinked and Davis was lifted after 8.1 with the eventual winning run standing on second.

Then there was Sunday’s series finale. OSU senior ace Ben Wetzler was coming back from a five-game suspension and felt the need to make amends to his teammates and coaches for the misdemeanor arrest eight days earlier that led to his suspension.

“I just wanted to go out there and give the guys something to make up a little for what I did,” Wetzler said. “It was for those guys, Petey went down yesterday, for guys like that – senior day yesterday it was really emotional for him and family as a whole – I felt that I had to step up and do what I’m capable of. I more than owed it to them, no doubt about that.”

Washington couldn’t get a base runner past second in the game and Wetzler allowed only four base runners in a complete-game two-hitter that gave OSU a two-game lead in the standings with a 3-0 victory.

“Before the game I looked at the pitching coach (Nate Yeskie) and said he’s either going to be absolutely dynamite or he’s going to be real bad,” OSU coach Pat Casey said. “I thought he’d be caught up in the emotion. He’d either be outstanding or he’d struggle and he was outstanding.”

Perhaps the ultimate testament of how good Wetzler was, he threw 116 pitches in nine innings, 76 for strikes. The Huskies threw 130 pitches with just 70 for strikes.

“They can really pitch, we knew that coming in and we need to be a little bit more disciplined at the plate,” UW coach Lyndsay Meggs said. “I don’t know that we got caught up in the environment – it can be a tough place to play – we pitched well enough to get two games, and we just didn’t execute well enough to get a leadoff man on all game.”

“Today I tried to just be the best teammate I could be and compete,” Wetzler said. “(Jeff) Hendrix made a top-10 play out there, (Jared) Casper made a play where the guy didn’t even get out of the box. Just good plays all over the field.”

All three Beaver runs came in a rain-interrupted fourth inning. Oregon State clinches its second straight conference title with a win at Southern California on Friday; only a USC sweep could deny the Beavers the crown.

That was no longer on the Huskies minds after the series loss. They have one week to get themselves back on track and that is a greater priority than looking at either the thrill of contending for the conference crown for the first time since 1998 or the possibility of still winning it, with some significant help.

“Baseball’s a crazy game, I’m not even thinking about them, it’s about us and playing the Bruins and whatever happens, happens,” Meggs said. “I’m worried about UCLA.

“We’ll look back on (the season) when it’s all done and look at what we did right and what we did wrong. Right now we just need to get our foot back on the gas and get our offense going again and get into the postseason however we have to do it.”

“That’s a good ball team out there. We had to do a lot right to win,” Casey said.

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