Weekend Preview: Oregon State Streaks Into Washington

Teddy Cahill and Michael Lananna each break down three of the biggest storylines going into this weekend’s action.

Oregon State streaks into Washington: No. 1 Oregon State (28-1, 12-0) travels to Washington (19-12, 6-3) this week looking to extend its 23-game winning streak and remain undefeated in the Pacific-12 Conference. That’s probably all the motivation the Beavers need for the series, but they have some added fuel this weekend.

Oregon State was perhaps the biggest snub from last year’s NCAA tournament field. After the field was announced last year, selection committee chairman Joel Erdmann said the West Regional Advisory Committee had Oregon State ranked “beneath a few other teams in the west region.” The Pac-12 representative on the advisory committee was Washington coach Lindsay Meggs, whose team was selected as an at-large team after losing a de facto conference championship series against Utah.

Even without that history, this weekend’s series is compelling. Washington is second in the Pac-12 standings, 4 1/2 games behind Oregon State. The Huskies are looking to build their NCAA tournament resume, as their No. 55 RPI leaves them on the bubble right now. The Beavers have a chance to open an even larger lead in the conference and could break the Pac-12 record for longest winning streak.

— Teddy Cahill

Oregon-Arizona provides clash of contrasts: No. 22 Oregon vs. No. 7 Arizona will not only pit two Top 25 Pac-12 Conference teams against each other, but the series should also provide an intriguing contrast between the pitching-first Ducks and the high-powered Arizona offense. On the heels of five straight wins, the Ducks entered the Top 25 this week and have one of the best pitchers in the country in junior ace David Peterson, who leads Division I with a 19.25 strikeout-to-walk ratio. The staff as a whole ranks 16th in the nation with a 3.05 ERA, flourishing in its first season under new pitching coach Jason Dietrich.

The Wildcats, on the other hand, lead the country in scoring, averaging nine runs per game and ranking second with a .425 on-base percentage. Powered by juniors J.J. Matijevic and Jared Oliva and precocious freshman Nick Quintana, the dynamic Arizona offense will be the toughest Oregon has faced this season. Which prevails—Peterson and the Ducks or Matijevic and the Wildcats?

— Michael Lananna

Conference USA leaders look to separate from the field: No. 21 Southern Mississippi (26-8, 10-2) leads Conference USA with Florida Atlantic (22-9-1, 9-3) and Old Dominion (25-9, 9-3) just a game back. FAU and ODU have a three-game cushion on a tightly compact pack of chasing teams. There are four teams tied for fourth and fourth through 12th place is separated by just three games.

This weekend, the leaders have a chance to really break away from the field. Southern Miss visits Rice (12-23, 3-9), which is coming off a rivalry win against Houston and still has a top 100 RPI, despite its last-place standing. Old Dominion hosts Louisiana Tech (21-12, 4-8), which has elevated its RPI to No. 63 and could still get back into the NCAA tournament mix. Florida Atlantic, the defending champion, hosts Marshall (16-15, 6-6), last year’s runner-up.

If Southern Miss, ODU and FAU all take care of business this weekend, the CUSA race should be much clearer by Monday. But if any falter, the race could become even more jumbled. CUSA ranks seventh in conference RPI this season, but it still should be able to produce two or three NCAA tournament bids.

— Teddy Cahill

Florida, Vanderbilt meet for key SEC East series: This Southeastern Conference East Division battle finds two teams in flux. The Commodores are seemingly on the rise after taking two of three in a road series at South Carolina, while Florida is still searching for consistency after dropping a home series to Tennessee.

The Commodores struggled early in the spring, particularly in series openers, but they’ve seemed to have found the right formula on the weekends. Sophomore righthander Patrick Raby has taken over Fridays in place of junior righthander Kyle Wright, who has improved on Saturdays after a tough start to the season. Vanderbilt’s offense has also found more of a rhythm. Sophomore first baseman Julian Infante homered twice in the series win over the Gamecocks and is providing middle-of-the-order power, while junior center field Jeren Kendall is a spark and power threat at the top of the order.

Florida has been relying almost exclusively on its pitching staff, ranking last in the SEC with a .246 team batting average. Florida’s rotation of Alex Faedo (5-1, 2.82), Brady Singer (4-1, 1.60) and Jackson Kowar (5-0, 2.72) is arguably the top unit in the country, but can they generate enough offense to best the Commodores? The Gators scored 10 runs Tuesday at Florida State to finish the season sweep of that rivalry series, but now they will have to carry that performance over to the weekend.

— Michael Lananna

Player To Watch: Brent Rooker. The Mississippi State first baseman is coming off an incredible week that included six home runs and vaulted him into the lead in all three triple crown categories in the Southeastern Conference and near the top of the national leaderboards (.450/.547/.992, 15 HR, 56 RBIs, 15 SB). His big week helped the No. 13 Bulldogs win a big series against Kentucky, and they will again look to him this weekend as they face No. 17 South Carolina. Rooker and the rest of the Bulldogs will face this weekend a tough Gamecocks pitching staff that welcomed back on Tuesday closer Tyler Johnson after the junior had been sidelined by injury for more than a month.

— Teddy Cahill

Player to Watch: Pavin Smith, 1b, Virginia. Smith is coming off a huge week in which he went 9-for-21, homered twice and drove in 14 runs, winning ACC player of the week honors. One of the top hitters in the draft class, Smith is batting .345/.406/.612 with 10 home runs and a team-leading 49 RBI and could be primed for another big weekend against a Virginia Tech pitching staff that has a team ERA of 5.71.

— Michael Lananna

Off the Wall

North Carolina has risen from No. 17 in the preseason to No. 4 in our latest rankings, losing only one series all year, to Long Beach State. But the Tar Heels (27-6, 12-3) face one of their bigger tests this weekend in their rivalry series with North Carolina State (18-15, 7-8).

The Wolfpack beat the Tar Heels two out of three in the final series of 2016, helping push the Heels out of the Atlantic Coast Conference and NCAA tournaments despite a top-20 RPI. The only win North Carolina got in that series came behind righty J.B. Bukauskas in what turned out to be his final start of the ’16 season. Bukauskas (5-0, 1.76, 75 SO/51 IP) has gotten off to a strong start this year, positioning himself to be the top college righthander on the 2017 draft board, but is coming off his worst start, lasting just four innings last Saturday at Boston College.

Bukauskas sat down with John Manuel to talk about this season, the State-UNC rivalry and more.

Q: I’ve heard your walk-up music many times but I can’t even remember what it is.

A: Since my freshman year I have been walking out to God’s Gonna Cut You Down by Johnny Cash. I just really like it, especially to start the game. I think there is a bit of an ominous feel to the song and that’s why I like it.

Q: Who’s the best hitter you have faced so far in college?

A: I’d have to say last year, specifically, Zack Collins (at Miami), (Virginia’s Matt) Thaiss and (Louisville’s) Corey Ray. With Ray, I had some success, I got him out with a front-door changeup at his hip, he wasn’t happy about the call because he has a good idea of the strike zone. He was sitting on it next time and hit it in the gap next time.

With those guys, it’s a combination of the talent they have, the pop, the ability to hit for average with their approach—you can make a good pitch right on the borderline and they lay off of it. Ultimately that’s what makes them so hard to face—you have to beat them in the zone. Those kinds of guys, especially this summer, in Cuba (with USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team), the older guys when they see spin, if it’s not in the zone they do not swing.

Q: Last week was obviously a big week in Chapel Hill what with the basketball team winning the national title after losing it in a heartbreaker last year. What’s that been like on campus?

I just watched the game with some buddies, and then we went up to Franklin Street. We hadn’t had the opportunity to do that before, celebrate like that, and it was really fun. It was just a cool experience to see how happy people were. This year, it was more of like, not antsy, more like, ‘We’re going to win this one.’ Last year it was same amount of people, the vibe was focused and locked in, and then just incredibly sad, crying for like weeks instead of this year where everyone’s happy and partying all the time. This is a much better feeling to have a champion.

The basketball team here is way up there, they’re like celebrities. Baseball players can walk around unrecognized, we’re not these giant tall guys that stick out. It’s kind of nice though, I can’t imagine what it’s like after you get a standing O at class (as Elite Eight hero Luke Maye did).

Q: You struggled in your last start at Boston College; Was that due in part to hitting a batter (Gian Martellini) in the head? Have you ever done that before?

I did way back when in high school, but not when I was throwing 94-95. Honestly, it was one of those outings where everything going against you. I’ve talked to my coaches, and I’ve decided it’s one of those starts where you almost have to laugh it off and take it for what it is. I’ve got to have that attitude, and the way we’re playing now, I know I can pick up the offense if I need to, and here I had a bad outing, they put up 17 runs.

My fastball command just was not there. The pitch was supposed to be a low and away fastball, and I hit the guy in head. Nothing was there for me this weekend. It was the toughest outing of the year, nothing I was trying worked.”

Q: What’s the etiquette when you hit someone in the head?

I know a couple guys on BC, but during the game, I was just quiet and just tried to get back to the game. It’s part of the game. The next day I talked to Jake Palomaki, who I know pretty well, and just told him how bad I feel about it, that I didn’t mean to do that—especially when it’s above the shoulders, it can get scary. You try not to get out of a competitive frame of mind, but when you hit a guy below the shoulders, it’s much different. It’s hard to go from attack mode to, ‘Oh my gosh’ . . . You try to get back in the zone, but I wasn’t able to do it entire . . . They knew I wasn’t sharp and didn’t mean to do it.

OK, let’s go out on a lighter note: What’s your go-to Chipotle order?

It’s a solid spot, especially for our team, where we hardly say the entire name anymore. A lot of guys just say, ‘Hey, let’s go to Chip.’ My go-to is I go bowl over the burrito, white rice, black beans, chicken usually but sometimes steak, pico salsa, sour cream, cheese and guacamole. It’s a little easier to go with the bowl, it’s less messy. A place like that, you can build what you want, and if you lean healthier, you can do that there too.

Top 25 Series (Where to Watch)
(1) Oregon State at Washington (Pac-12 Network)
(2) Louisville at Georgia Tech (ESPN3.com)
(3) Texas Christian at West Virginia (FCS-Atlantic)
North Carolina State at (4) North Carolina (ESPN3.com)
(5) Clemson at Florida State (ESPN3.com)
(6) Texas Tech at Kansas State (ESPN3.com)
(22) Oregon at (7) Arizona (Live stream through ArizonaWildcats.com)
Southern California vs./at (8) Cal State Fullerton (Live stream through FullertonTitans.com)
Mississippi at (9) Louisiana State (ESPN3.com)
(10) Auburn at Tennessee (ESPN3.com)
(11) Oklahoma at (23) Michigan
Cal State Northridge at (12) Long Beach State
(13) Mississippi State at (17) South Carolina (ESPN3.com)
(14) Virginia at Virginia Tech (ESPN3.com)
(15) Kentucky at Missouri (ESPN3.com)
(16) Florida at Vanderbilt (ESPN3.com)
UCLA at (18) Stanford (Pac-12 Network)
Georgia at (19) Arkansas (ESPN3.com)
Notre Dame at (20) Wake Forest (ESPN3.com)
(21) Southern Mississippi at Rice (Live stream available through RiceOwls.com)
(24) St. John’s at Butler
(25) Connecticut at Tulane (American Digital Network)

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