CORVALLIS, Ore.—Ben Wetzler made national headlines before he ever stepped on the mound this spring, when he became the latest victim of the NCAA’s odious “no agent” rule. Since returning from his three-week suspension, he has continued to make headlines just about every week, for his dominance on the mound.
In Friday’s Civil War series opener, Wetzler added another memorable chapter to his remarkable season. He carried a shutout into the ninth inning and became Oregon State’s all-time wins leader in a 3-1 victory against rival Oregon.
“It’s been a whirlwind, that’s for sure,” Wetzler said of his senior season.
The lefthander led the nation in opponents’ batting average coming into the game (.129), and he yielded just three hits through the first eight innings Friday. He gave up two more hits to start the ninth, but with runners on second and third and no outs, he struck out Shaun Chase, then exited to a standing ovation. After reliever Zach Reser walked Austin Grebeck to load the bases, Scott Schultz escaped the jam by getting a ground ball and a fly out, sealing Wetzler’s 31st career victory. His final line: 8.1 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 7 K. He improved to 7-1, 0.78 on the season.
“Here’s a guy that’s endured, as we all know, a tough time with the draft situation,” Oregon State coach Pat Casey said. “Comes back and—he’s what we are. That’s what our program’s about, Ben Wetzlers. I’m proud of him. He’s a great kid, he’s a fighter, a battler, he didn’t want to come out. I sent (pitching coach) Nate (Yeskie) out to take him out of the game, and he comes out, and he wouldn’t let him take him out. So between those two guys, I don’t know who to blame.”
Wetzler did allow the leadoff man to reach base in three straight innings early in the game, two of them via hit batsmen, but as usual he buckled down with men on base and kept the Ducks off the scoreboard. Pitching out of trouble has become routine for Wetzler, who has issued 21 walks in 53 innings, including six last week in his only loss of the season at Washington State. He found his command in the middle innings Friday, hitting spots with a fastball that sat mostly at 85-88 and using his 74-78 slurve as an out pitch.
“I was able to throw (my pitches) for strikes, I think that’s a huge key for me is just being able to throw strikes,” Wetzler said. “I still had four or five free bases I need to eliminate from my starts, but it was better.”
His competitive juices really flow when runners reach base, and Casey said he “just gets tougher” in those situations.
“It might be just more focus, dialing in on the next pitches, and it takes me until somebody gets on,” Wetzler said.
Teammates Michael Conforto (who doubled twice, including an RBI double off the wall in the fifth) and Caleb Hamilton (who hit his first career home run in the sixth) echoed Casey’s sentiments about Wetzler’s status as the consummate Beaver. They marveled at his competitiveness and leadership, which he demonstrated Monday after the Beavers blew a 6-1 lead at Sacramento State, giving his teammates a fiery motivational speech.
“When you think about Ben Wetzler, you think about the team,” Conforto said. “You think about a team guy who would do anything for us. Looking back on our game on Monday, the way he emotionally responded to the way we played, the way we let that game slip away, I think it really resonated in our teammates and everybody just how much it means to him. He said enough by coming back for the team, turning down money, turning down playing in the pros, to come out and give it everything he’s got, every single day, every practice, every inning—he’s awesome.
“He did everything we needed him to do today. He’s done it all season, he’s done it his entire career. He’s one of those personalities you don’t come by very often. His confidence, his swagger . . . I can’t say enough about Ben Wetzler.”
Top 25 Showdowns
(1) Virginia at (4) Florida State: Derek Fisher (3-for-5) delivered his third straight multi-hit game in his fourth contest since returning from a broken hamate bone, and his two-run double in the 10th lifted Virginia to a 5-3 win in Tallahassee. Four other Cavs also recorded multiple hits as part of a 13-hit attack, and Mike Papi hit a game-tying solo homer in the eighth off Luke Weaver (7 IP, 9 H, 3 ER, 0 BB, 5 K). Nathan Kirby (6 IP, 7 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 7 K) was also solid in a no-decision in the matchup between two of the leading contenders for ACC pitcher of the year honors. Whit Mayberry (3 IP, 2 H, 0 R) and Nick Howard (1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 3 K) followed with strong relief for the Cavs, and the UVa. offense got to Florida State’s own dynamic bullpen duo of Gage Smith and Jameis Winston in the 10th.
(8) Alabama at (11) South Carolina: Gene Cone’s three-run triple highlighted South Carolina’s four-run fourth inning, as the Gamecocks broke a 2-2 tie and went on to a 9-3 win. Jordan Montgomery (6.1 IP, 8 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 8 K) bested Spencer Turnbull (7 IP, 6 H, 6 R, 4 ER, 6 BB, 2 K). Grayson Greiner (3-for-4, 2 R, 2 RBI, HR) and Tanner English (3-for-4, R, 2 RBI) also had big games for South Carolina, which has won five straight since snapping a five-game losing streak.
(21) Oklahoma State at (10) Texas: Parker French (6 IP, 1 H, 0 R) and Chad Hollingsworth (3 IP, 1 H, 0 R) combined on a two-hit shutout in Texas’ 3-0 win. Zane Gurwitz (3-for-4, R, RBI) and C.J Hinojosa (2-for-3, 2 R) led the Texas offense, and OSU ace Jon Perrin (4.1 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 6 BB) struggled with his control in the loss.
(15) Miami at (22) Clemson: Ricky Eusebio posted his second consecutive three-hit game, and Zack Collins added a two-run homer in the ninth—his seventh longball of the year—to help Chris Diaz (7.2 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 5 K) improve to 7-0, as the Hurricanes won the series opener 5-2. Matthew Crownover (7 IP, 8 H, 3 ER) took the loss for Clemson. Miami remained tied atop the ACC standings with Virginia at 17-5.
(16) Mississippi at (17) Kentucky: Will Allen, Sikes Orvis, Errol Robinson and Preston Overbey combined for nine hits and nine RBIs to power Ole Miss to a 13-4 win. The Rebels took control with six runs in the third against A.J. Reed (3 IP, 8 H, 7 R, 2 ER), helping Chris Ellis (7 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 5 K) improve to 6-0.
Top 25 Upsets
Washington State at (7) Washington: Nick Tanielu, Ben Roberts and Ian Sagdal had two RBIs apiece to lead the Cougars to a 6-4 win in Seattle. Wazzu erased a 4-3 deficit with three runs in the seventh against the UW bullpen.
Texas A&M at (20) Mississippi State: This series began Thursday, when play was suspended in the sixth inning, and the Bulldogs held on for a 5-1 win when play resumed Friday. But the Aggies evened the series with a 6-3 win in the second game. Seth Heck (3-for-5, R, RBI) led the MSU offense in support of Trevor Fitts (6 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 6 K) in the opener, and Jonathan Holder worked 2.2 scoreless innings for the save. The Aggies chased Ross Mitchell (4.1 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 3 ER) in a four-run fifth in the second game, as Daniel Mengden (6 IP, 9 H, 2 ER) improved to 3-6.
Auburn at (24) Arkansas: The Tigers scored a pair of unearned runs in the sixth against Trey Killian (8 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 8 K) to win 2-1. Killian’s latest tough-luck loss dropped him to 2-7 on the year. Dillon Ortman (8.1 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 5 K) improved to 8-2 for Auburn.
Other Top 25 Results
(2) Cal Poly at Long Beach State: The Mustangs broke a 3-3 tie with three runs in the eighth, highlighted by Nick Torres’ two-run single, to win the opener 6-3. Reed Reilly (2.2 IP, 2 H, 0 R) earned the win in relief of Matt Imhof (6.1 IP, 6 H, 3 ER, 4 BB, 4 K).
Texas State at (3) Louisiana-Lafayette: Ryan Leonards (2-for-4, 2 R, 2 RBI) hit a tie-breaking RBI triple in the seventh and scored an insurance run on Caleb Adams’ RBI single, lifting the Cajuns to an 8-6 win. Seth Harrison (2-for-3, 3 RBI) added a home run. Austin Robichaux (4 IP, 5 H, 3 ER) started and took a no-decision.
Missouri at (6) Florida: Peter Alonso (3-for-4, 2B, 3B, 5 RBI) had a big game in support of Logan Shore (7.1 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 5 K), as the Gators rebounded from a pair of midweek losses with a 7-1 victory against Missouri.
Tennessee at (9) Louisiana State: The Tigers rapped out 17 hits and came from behind with single runs in the seventh, eighth and ninth to earn an 8-7 victory. Mark Laird (2-for-5) delivered a walk-off RBI single in the ninth. The Vols jumped on Aaron Nola (5.2 IP, 8 H, 5 ER, 4 BB, 4 K) for two runs in the first, then chased him in a four-run sixth.
(12) Rice at Southern Mississippi: Sam Hoelscher (3-for-4, R, 3 RBI, 2B) powered the Rice offense, while Kevin McCanna (5.2 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 8 K) and Matt Ditman (3.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 4 K) sparkled in Rice’s 5-0 win.
Connecticut at (13) Louisville: Kyle Funkhouser (7 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 5 BB, 7 K) improved to 8-2 on the season in Louisville’s 2-0 win. The Cardinals broke a scoreless tie with a run in the sixth and added another in the seventh, and Nick Burdi struck out two in a perfect ninth to record his 10th save.
(14) Houston at Cincinnati: Casey Grayson (2-for-5, 3 RBI) and Justin Montemayor (4-for-5, 3 R, 3 2B) powered the Cougars to an 11-4 victory. Tyler Ford (5 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 6 K) earned the win in relief of Aaron Garza (4 IP, 6 H, 3 ER).
(18) Indiana at Illinois: Five Hoosiers posted two-hit games, led by Brad Hartong (2-for-3, 3 RBI, 2B), in a 9-3 win. Joey DeNato (8 IP, 11 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 5 K) improved to 9-1.
Cal State Northridge at (23) Texas Christian: Brandon Finnegan (2.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R) exited with shoulder soreness in the third, but Fort Worth Star-Telegram writer Stefan Stevenson reported that the team doctor does not expect him to miss a start. “I think it just scared him a little bit,” TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle said, per Stevenson. “It scared everyone in the ballpark. He passed every test (the team doctors and trainers gave him after he exited).” Trey Teakell (2.1 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 0 ER) earned the win in relief, and Alex Young (4 IP, 4 H, 1 ER) picked up his first save with excellent long relief work.
Georgia at (25) Vanderbilt: Play was suspended due to a power outage with Vanderbilt leading 10-0 in the bottom of the fifth. Tyler Beede delivered five scoreless innings with seven strikeouts before the lights went out, and Vandy took control of the game with a seven-run second.