Image credit: Oregon State catcher Troy Claunch (Photo courtesy of Oregon State/Zachary Lucy)
Fresh Look Yields Familiar Results For Oregon State
For the last three years, Oregon State was one of the very best teams in the country. It went 56-6 in 2017, won the 2018 national championship and last year hosted a regional and produced Player of the Year Adley Rutschman.
The core of those teams is now gone, however. Rutschman last year was drafted first overall by the Orioles and Friday starter Bryce Fehmel graduated, joining the likes of Cadyn Grenier, Trevor Larnach and Nick Madrigal in pro ball. The changes extend to the dugout, as Mitch Canham begins his first season as head coach after being hired away from the Mariners organization, where he was a minor-league manager.
With so much newness around the team, it was hard to get a read on the Beavers coming into the 2020 season. On Opening Day, however, Oregon State looked much like it has for the last three years. It rolled to an 11-4 victory against New Mexico in Surprise, Ariz., at the Sanderson Ford Classic. The game that was never in doubt after the first eight Beavers to bat all came around to score.
Even with so many new faces in new roles, there were few nerves in the Beavers’ dugout Friday.
“I was excited about the way the guys competed today, especially with how they prepared before the game,” Canham said. “They showed up and you saw that sense of determination. You saw that extreme focus. It helps going into the game when they prepare the way they do, and they communicate the way they do.
“Talk about nerves, but nice going into a game not having any nerves because you know the way they prepared.”
Oregon State’s offense came barreling out of the gate Friday. After a walk and an error to start the game, first baseman Alex McGarry hammered a three-run home run halfway up the berm in dead center field. By the time the inning ended, nine runs had crossed the plate.
The benefactor of that early offense was lefthander Christian Chamberlain. The junior, who has mostly pitched in relief during his Oregon State career, was excellent Friday. He held New Mexico to one run (unearned) on one hit and two walks in six innings, striking out five.
“It was really nice to have some runs put up in the first inning and be able to pitch with a lead,” he said. “I thought everyone else did a great job, Troy (Claunch) did a great job behind the plate and made me look better.”
Staked to the early lead, Chamberlain didn’t let up and stuck to his game plan on the mound. His fastball sat in the low 90s and he worked efficiently and effectively with it, coming right after hitters. He threw 82 pitches and used the big ballpark to his advantage, creating nine fly outs, most of which were routine.
Listed at 5-foot-10, 170 pounds, Chamberlain may not look like the prototypical Friday starter, but he has the stuff and makeup to fit the bill for the Beavers.
“He wants the baseball,” Canham said. “He filled up the zone, forced weak contact and getting that lead, sometimes people can become complacent, but he stuck with his plan and attacked all night.”
Chamberlain’s strong start was a welcome sight for Oregon State, as was the output of Claunch. The junior catcher has seen limited action the last two seasons, stuck behind Rutschman.
Claunch is the starter now and he started the season strong, going 3-for-4 with a double and a home run. Chamberlain and Canham were quick to praise Claunch’s play.
“Awesome to see Troy make a deposit deep to left field,” Canham said. “The way he worked behind the dish, it fed into the defense, it fed into the pitching, it fed into the dugout, I was impressed.”
The Beavers also got strong games from freshmen outfielders Micah McDowell (2-for-4, 2 R, SB) and Cesar Valero (1-for-4, R). Despite how new the roster feels, they were the only freshmen to see action Friday but they carried the banner for the newcomers well.
Oregon State has tougher tests to come. New Mexico finished last in the Mountain West Conference last season and got off on the wrong foot Friday when it fell deep into a hole in the first inning. Still, what the Beavers showed on Opening Day was encouraging as they go forward in 2020 and into a new era in Corvallis.
The task now is to carry that momentum into the rest of the weekend in Surprise, as Oregon State faces Gonzaga and Brigham Young. The Beavers might have a fresh look to their roster, but they aren’t dwelling on it. They’re ready to seize their opportunity, just like they did Friday.
“I don’t think we skipped a beat offensively or on the mound,” Chamberlain said. “I think they approached it that it’s just baseball and they’ve been playing it their whole lives and that’s the mentality they brought.”
Opening Day produced its share of upsets, starting at the top of the rankings with No. 8 Michigan knocking off No. 1 Vanderbilt.
Aside from that top-10 showdown, five other Top 25 teams lost Friday.
- Niagara beat No. 12 Florida State, 3-1, spoiling Mike Martin Jr.’s debut as head coach
- Army beat No. 15 Duke, 2-1, as the Black Knights combined for a three-hitter
- Grand Canyon rolled past No. 16 Oklahoma State, 10-3
- Virginia shut out No. 19 Oklahoma, 6-0, in the Wahoo Classic in Pensacola
- Saint Joseph’s beat No. 24 Ohio State, 7-3, in Port Charlotte, Fla.
It’s important not to read too much into any one baseball game, especially in February. But at this time of year, individual results are magnified. Who then has the most to worry about after Friday?
For Florida State, the loss was its first to Niagara in 11 meetings between the two schools. And it played out in a fashion that accentuates the Seminoles’ weaknesses coming into the season. After losing closer/center fielder J.C. Flowers in the draft, they blew a save on Opening Day and gave up three runs in the ninth inning. But the offense left the pitching staff no margin for error, producing just one run on three hits and stranding eight runners.
After the game, Martin Jr. didn’t mince words to reports in Tallahassee.
“Our approach was absolute garbage,” he said.
Army is a talented team that has been to regionals in back-to-back seasons and this spring is favored to win the Patriot League. Its biggest question marks coming into the season were on the mound, however, and all the Black Knights’ pitchers did Friday was go out and hold the Blue Devils to one run on three hits and one walk. Duke has a solid pitching staff, but its young hitters will need to bounce back.
Oklahoma State was one of just two Top 25 teams playing a true road game on Opening Day (Louisville won at Mississippi). It struggled to get anything going against Grand Canyon senior Kade Mechals, while freshman righthander Bryce Osmond scuffled in his debut.
Oklahoma had the toughest test of the group, facing Virginia, which just missed starting the season in the Top 25. The game was tight most of the night before the Cavaliers scored four in the eighth to put it away. Virginia threw some really good pitchers Friday, starting with Griff McGarry, but Oklahoma’s offense produced just two hits and four walks. For a team that had some questions in the lineup, it was an inauspicious start.
Ohio State began the season in the Top 25 in large part because it returned its entire rotation, which was a key to its success last season. But St. Joe’s got to righthander Garrett Burhenn for four runs (three earned) and never looked back. The Buckeyes will need better performances from lefthanders Seth Lonsway and Griffan Smith the rest of the weekend.
It’s just one game and all five teams still have every chance to bounce back and produce a winning weekend. But correcting mistakes quickly will be important for those five teams.
Gary Gilmore Keeps Fighting
Last month, Coastal Carolina announced coach Gary Gilmore had learned through preliminary tests that there was a large mass on his liver that doctors believed to be cancerous. Friday, after Coastal defeated UNC Greensboro, 12-4, Gilmore confirmed he has liver cancer.
The news was a somber reminder on what is typically a joyous day, but Gilmore is determined to beat the disease. He told reporters he is on a waiting list to be treated at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and when he receives the call, he will take a leave of absence to get treatment. Until then, however, he intends to be in the dugout with the Chanticleers.
Gilmore said during the game Friday was the first time since he was told of the diagnosis that he’s been able to really put it aside and focus on something else for an extended period of time.
“Any time you hear those words it overwhelms every thought and every action,” Gilmore said. “Probably there today, that’s probably the first time since I’ve heard those words that I’ve gone three hours and hadn’t thought about it, to be honest with you. It was awesome.”
Gilmore has also been touched by the outpouring of support he’s received.
“The only teams I’ve shed throughout this whole thing has been over that, how many people have reached out,” Gilmore said. “They’re shedding tears while I’m smiling. If I want to have a really good cry it’ll be over how many people have reached out to love on me and reached out to God, they’re asking him to help me.”
The somber tone on Opening Day was also felt elsewhere around the country. At Louisiana-Lafayette, the Ragin’ Cajuns honored longtime coach Tony Robichaux, who passed away last July following a heart attack. The team wore hats emblazoned with his No. 34 on the front panel and Robichaux’s family threw out the first pitch.
Elsewhere, several stadiums held a 14-second moment of silence in honor of longtime Orange Coast (Calif.) JC coach John Altobelli, who died in January in a helicopter crash.
Around The Horn
— In the most compelling traditional three-game series of Opening Weekend, No. 2 Louisville captured game one of their road series with Mississippi by a 7-2 score behind staff ace Reid Detmers. The lefthander threw five innings, giving up three hits and one run with two walks and nine strikeouts. After a slow start, the Cardinals’ offense came alive with four runs in the sixth against Rebels lefthander Doug Nikhazy, with RBI doubles coming from Zach Britton, Henry Davis and Justin Lavey.
— No. 7 Georgia survived its opener against Richmond with a 7-6 win, but it didn’t come easy. The Spiders got to righty Emerson Hancock for nine hits and six runs in four innings and still led 6-5 heading to the bottom of the ninth, when the Bulldogs pulled victory from the jaws of defeat with a solo homer off the bat of third baseman Garrett Blaylock and a walk-off RBI single from second baseman Cole Tate.
— Nebraska captured a somewhat bizarre win over Baylor, 19-9 . The Bears actually outscored the Cornhuskers 9-8 after the first inning, but the bad news was that 11 Nebraska runs scored in that first. Six different Huskers had multi-hit games, including three-hit days from catcher Luke Roskam and center fielder Joe Acker.
— Things got a little bit wonky late in a 12-10 Minnesota win against Oregon Friday night, but the story early on was Gophers righthander Max Meyer. He threw five innings, giving up two hits and two runs (one earned) with three walks and seven strikeouts. That’s a fine outing, but his stuff was off the charts, including a fastball that sat in the high 90s.
— In a 7-1 loss to Cal State Fullerton, Stanford’s defense really let them down. Of the Titans’ seven runs, just two were earned. Meanwhile, Fullerton got a really nice outing from righthander Tanner Bibee, who threw six innings, giving up six hits and one run with no walks and nine strikeouts.