CORVALLIS – Oregon State continues to embrace being the nation’s top-ranked college baseball team.
But with that lofty ranking comes great expectations and a “big target on your back,” infielder Cadyn Grenier said.
The Beavers expect to get every team’s best shot and that was the case in this weekend’s series against USC. OSU won Sunday’s rubber game, 10-1 before a sellout crowd of 3,351 at Goss Stadium, and have not dropped a series all season.
OSU (34-4, 18-3 Pac-12) is off to the best start in school history.
Grenier compared OSU’s situation to what the Alabama football team confronts on an annual basis.
“It’s Alabama football. You wanna knock them off,” Grenier said. “It’s the same deal with us right now.”
Actually, OSU has been in this position for more than a decade.
The Beavers made it to the College World Series in Omaha three years in a row from 2005 to 2007 and won back-to-back national championships in 2006-07. They were voted the No. 2 team of the decade by Baseball America.
OSU appears to have the right stuff for a return to Omaha for the first time since 2013. It is a typical Pat Casey-coached team built on pitching and defense.
The Beavers’ 1.91 team earned run average leads the nation.
After failing to reach the NCAA tournament last season for the first time since 2008, OSU was determined to reestablish its perennial power status. With a 5 1/2 game lead over second-place Stanford, the Beavers are in excellent position to receive the conference’s automatic postseason berth.
OSU plays all of its remaining regular season games in the state of Oregon, and the Beavers are in ideal position to host a NCAA regional and super regional on the road to Omaha. They are 15-1 at home.
Casey said the Beavers have done a good job of staying in the moment.
“You've just gotta win series, one at a time," Casey said after Sunday's game.
KJ Harrison's two-run homer in the bottom of the first inning got the Beavers' rolling, and that was more than enough support for starting pitcher Jake Thompson, who allowed five hits and one run in eight innings with a career-high 11 strikeouts.
"We just go out there every day and try to win and compete and play as hard as we can and see what happens at the end of the day," Harrison said. "We're playing great baseball right now."
By every measuring stick, it’s been a special season thus far, which includes a 23-game winning streak, one short of the conference record set by Arizona State in 2010.
Grenier and fellow sophomore Nick Madrigal, who leads the team with a .381 batting average, form perhaps the nation’s premier middle-infield combination. They are interchangeable at shortstop and second base.
Luke Heimlich (6-1, 0.78) and Thompson (9-0, 1.07) anchor the starting rotation, and the bullpen is deep led by Max Engelbrekt (2-0, 0.75, five saves) and Jake Mulholland (5-1, 1.42, five saves).
Drew Rasmussen, who made his 2017 debut in Friday's 3-1 victory over USC after missing the past 13 months following Tommy John surgery, gives the pitching staff even more depth. He tossed the school’s only perfect game as a freshman in 2015.
Sam Tweedt, a sophomore right-hander from South Salem High School who has been utilized as a starter and reliever this season, pointed to the Beavers’ depth across the board.
“That’s pretty evident on the mound, and position-player wise I think we can plug guys in just about any situation and we’ll get the job done,” Tweedt said.
Unlike recent OSU teams that featured power hitters like Michael Conforto, Dylan Davis, Stefen Romero and Harrison, OSU hasn’t been much of a long-ball hitting team with 14 home runs. Harrison, a junior first baseman, is tied for the team lead with four.
But a lack of power has not prevented OSU from posting the nation’s best record. They are an impressive 7-1 in one-run games.
There’s reason to believe OSU will conclude its season in Omaha, but no one is thinking that far ahead with a month remaining in the regular season.
"Everyone wants to beat us," Thompson said. "If we just keep playing our game and keep going out there competing to the best of our ability, everything else will take care of itself."
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