CORVALLIS — A series-ending start Sunday for Oregon State pitcher Jake Thompson resulted in another Beavers victory.
Thompson, a junior right-hander, improved his 2017 record to 10-0 following Sunday’s 10-2 victory over California before a sellout crowd of 3,551 at Goss Stadium.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Thompson said of being the Sunday starter. “You’re either pitching to get the series or a sweep or even stop ‘em from sweeping, so it’s a big game.”
Top-ranked OSU (38-4, 21-3 Pac-12) has won every series this season, including 10 in a row in conference play dating back to last season.
The Beavers have swept five conference series this season, and with six league games remaining they are a virtual lock to win the Pac-12 championship for the first time since 2014, and receive an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
OSU, which is off to the best start in school history, has the look of a team that figures prominently on the road to Omaha for the College World Series. And the Beavers would have the added advantage of hosting a NCAA regional and super regional.
“I know it’s hard for people to imagine that sit out there and watch that we’re thinking about something other than the next game, but we’re really not,” said OSU coach Pat Casey. “We’ve got great leadership on the field.”
A five-run fifth inning increased OSU’s lead to 7-0 and that was more than enough support for Thompson, who gave up nine hits and two runs, with six strikeouts and one walk. It was just the second time in 12 starts this season that he allowed more than one earned run.
Thompson didn’t have his best stuff Sunday, but it was good enough. He received a standing ovation after being relieved by Mitchell Verburg with one out in the top of the seventh.
The Golden Bears (21-24, 12-12), who lead the Pac-12 in home runs, had four in Saturday’s 11-10 loss to the Beavers. Thompson yielded five doubles but zero homers.
“The problem when you pitch as well as he’s pitched is everybody expects him to shut somebody out,” Casey said. “He’s good. He wasn’t as sharp as he can be because he got the ball up.”
Especially later in the game, but the damage was minimal.
“Jake’s a competitor,” said catcher Andy Rutschman, who drove in two runs. “You know he’s always gonna give his best when he’s out there. I was just fortunate to catch him today and let him work.”
Thompson is having the best season of his OSU career and leads the team in wins. He was 3-3 last season with a 4.28 ERA.
“I’ve been able to command the strike zone a lot better, so getting ahead of hitters and being able to finish ‘em off has been working for me,” said Thompson, whose ERA rose slightly to 1.32.
OSU, which entered Sunday with a 6 ½-game lead over second-place Stanford and UCLA, could wrap up the outright league crown Friday at Oregon.
Luke Heimlich (7-1, 0.71) got the Beavers rolling in Friday’s 8-0 series-opening win against Cal with eight shutout innings and a career-high 12 strikeouts. The Beavers won a slugfest Saturday, and turned to Thompson to close the series.
Tyler Malone, who had two of OSU’s 10 hits, gave the Beavers a lift with a pinch-hit two-run single in the fifth.
It has been a magical season thus far for the Beavers, whose 1.99 team ERA leads the nation. OSU doesn’t hit a lot of home runs (16), but a .289 team batting average and 5.6 runs per game is impressive.
Pitching and defense, trademarks of Casey’s national championship teams in 2006 and 2007, will ultimately determine if the Beavers make it back to Omaha for the first time since 2013.
“We really have a microscopic focus on ourselves and try and block out everything else and focus on game to game,” Rutschman said.
Note: Andy Armstrong, a freshman infielder from West Salem High School, made his first Pac-12 start Sunday and went 0 for 2 as the designated hitter.