The final regular season weekend of Pac-12 play gave three teams three days to take home the conference championship ahead of next week’s inaugural conference tournament in Scottsdale, Arizona. UCLA (just outside the top 25) traveled north to Corvallis to face No. 4 Oregon State, each with a chance to take the top seed. Meanwhile, No. 3 Stanford was at home playing host to USC.
Here is how the weekend unfolded.
The first day of action made everything more interesting going forward. UCLA defeated Oregon State 4-1 to close the gap by a game as Max Rajcic (8-4) out-dueled Cooper Hjerpe (9-2). Both starters went six innings, and each allowed just one earned run. Hjerpe had ten strike outs in defeat to Rajcic’s eight punch outs.
Stanford entered the weekend having won nine games in a row and they had no trouble with USC as the Cardinal took the opener 7-1. Stanford ace Alex Williams was practically the entire story of this game as he threw a complete game and limited the Trojans to just four hits. The Cardinal offense was powered by a Braden Montgomery home run and a stellar performance by Brock Jones who added a home run in a 3-for-5 effort. Jones has caught fire at exactly the right time, and it is no surprise that a double-digit win streak has ensued for the Cardinal at the same time.
His team enjoys when Williams pitches, aside from consistently solid outings, his teammates relish the pace of play.
“Everyone loves when Alex pitches because you know it’s going to be a short game,” said Stanford’s Brett Barrera.
After the game Montgomery was all smiles as he reflected simply on Stanford’s tenth straight win. “Fun day,” Montgomery said. “Really fun day.”
Stanford returned on Friday for game two and absolutely obliterated USC, 22-3. Joey Dixon tossed seven innings of great baseball for the Cardinal. Barrera was 2-for-4 in the win with a grand slam and he drove in five runs in the game.
The win allowed Stanford to clinch at least a tie for the Pac-12 regular season title, and it gave the squad the top spot in the tournament by virtue of the tiebreaker the Cardinal held over Oregon State.
UCLA once again defeated the Beavers on Friday, 7-4, setting up a possible sweep scenario in Saturday’s finale. Jake Melton hit a three-run for the Beavers and that was almost the entire offensive output for Oregon State on Friday. Carson Yates hit a three-run home run for the Bruins and Jake Palmer added a big RBI.
The Bruins pitching staff was great on Friday, especially the bullpen which pitched the final five innings of the game and did not allow a run on just four hits.
There was no let-up for the Cardinal on Saturday as they closed out the regular season with a 12-5 victory over USC. Jones homered again on the weekend and drove in three runs in the game. Drew Dowd pitched out of the Cardinal bullpen and gave his team 3 1/3 innings of scoreless relief.
Up in Corvallis, the Beavers salvaged the series and avoided a sweep by defeating the Bruins 9-3. Jake Pfennigs went 6 1/3 innings on the mound as he continues to strengthen after he missed considerable time early in the season due to injury. Garret Forrester was 2-for-5 in the game with a three-run home run and he scored another run.
The win kept Pfennigs perfect on the year as he improved to 3-0 to close out his regular season.
Oregon State is scuffling. Their talent level should not allow that to last long, but having lost their final series of the year at home with a lot to play for, it is easy to be pessimistic about their prospects in Scottsdale. The Beavers will obviously play in the NCAA Regionals and only a real calamity can keep them from hosting one.
Pfennigs took a line drive off his knee on Saturday and the ball caromed all the way out to pretty deep right field. Pfennigs stayed in the game, so he did not appear to be affected, but if that proves to be an injury or has lingering effects, that would be a huge problem for the Beavers pitching situation.
For the Cardinal, this looks very much like a repeat of the 2021 season, where Stanford has been hot at just the right time. The Cardinal may have stretched out the pitching staff in ways that can really benefit them as they move into the time of year where arms are at a premium and quality outs matter. And after a very slow, almost disappointing, season for Jones, his bat has been key down the stretch, again, much like it was in 2021 when the Cardinal made a run in Omaha.
Stanford will enter the Pac-12 tournament having won twelve straight games to close out the regular season.