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Pac-12 Conference Play Gets Underway

In only the fourth weekend of the 2022 college baseball season, the Pac-12 opened up their conference play with five matchups that begin to set the stage for the first Pac-12 tournament at the end of the regular season. All five matchups this weekend gave fans a glimpse of an unpredictable conference championship that awaits those who stay until the end.

Oregon at No. 9 Stanford

The Cardinal got a solid outing from their Friday night starter Alex Williams who threw seven innings and allowed just two runs on seven hits with ten strike outs, which tied a career high. But Williams was not around for the final outcome as Oregon closed out the game in the ninth to win 4-3. Stanford took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first on Friday and that lead held until the fifth inning when Oregon tied the game. Oregon added a run in the eighth which was matched by Stanford in the bottom frame. Tanner Smith then led off the ninth inning with a home run to give the Ducks a 4-3 lead.

Saturday gave spectators a view of what Pac-12 offenses can look like in best case scenarios. Neither starting pitcher fared well on Saturday and both were out of the game long before the wild finish. Stanford led 4-0 after the first inning, and they added a four-run spot in the second and led 9-3 after three complete. Oregon got four-RBI performances from both Gavin Grant and Jack Scanlon in a balanced offensive attack that even saw their six through nine hitters collect nine hits in the game. Stanford was led by Carter Graham who drove in five runs and Drew Bowser who drove in three in a 3-for-4 night. Though the Cardinal closed the gap with a four run ninth, they could not do any further damage and the Ducks prevailed victors in the 16-13 game.

Stanford was looking to avoid being swept at home in Sunday's finale. Drew Dowd got the Sunday start for the Cardinal and allowed three earned runs over six innings and struck out six. Stanford’s Brett Barrera was 2-for-3 with a grand slam and a double and he got offensive help from Kody Huff who added two RBI of his own. Dowd stayed perfect on the season and improved his record to 3-0 with the 10-6 win.

Oregon left Stanford having taken two of three games in a positive start to conference play for the Ducks.

No. 11 Oregon State at Washington State

The Oregon State Beavers opened their weekend by scoring eight runs in the top of the first inning against Washington State. Justin Boyd hit a three-run home run in the frame to lead the way, and Gavin Logan also added a two-run shot in the first. Left-hander Cooper Hjerpe took the mound for the Beavers on Friday and though he struggled early and allowed three runs over 5 1/3 innings, his offense scored thirteen runs behind him and helped him improve to 4-0 on the year with the 13-3 win.

In Saturday’s game, Oregon State once again set the tone and scored first, notching a 1-0 lead in the first inning. Logan and Jacob Melton both hit home runs, but the Beavers offense was limited to six hits in the contest. Jacob Kmatz improved to 3-0 on the season with a five-inning performance where he allowed just one run. The Cougars only had five hits in the 5-1 defeat.

Oregon State went for the weekend sweep on Sunday, and in the first inning they looked well on their way to achieving it when they scored two runs to open the game, without even recording a base hit. A three-run second inning had the Beavers in front 5-1, but Washington State put up five runs from the fourth through sixth innings to keep the game close. Trailing 8-7 in the bottom of the ninth, the Cougars walked-off the Beavers when Bryce Matthews singled into right field with two outs to bring in the game winning run from third base.

Oregon State won the weekend series 2-1 on the road.

USC at No. 21 UCLA

USC won Friday's opener at UCLA's Jackie Robinson Field 7-4 in a final score that was closer than the actual game indicates. USC scored four times in the second inning and added two more runs the eighth to lead 6-2. Jaden Agassi pitched well for USC, but he departed the game after 4 2/3 innings and thus did not qualify for the win. Trailing 7-2 in the ninth, the Bruins did get the tying run to the plate after pushing two runs across, but the Trojans closed out the opening night win.

Max Rajcic led the Bruins to a win for UCLA on Saturday night when he took the mound and delivered five scoreless innings for John Savage’s team. The bullpen, allowing two runs (none earned), helped the Bruins the finish the game. The Bruins won the middle game 11-2 thanks to Michael Curialle (3-for-4) with three RBI and two-RBI performances by Ethan Gourson and Cody Schrier.

USC jumped on UCLA for five runs in the opening frame on Sunday afternoon. Garret Guillemette capped the scoring with a two-run home run. Second baseman Tyresse Turner (3-for-4) also had two RBI.

UCLA’s freshman right-hander Thatcher Hurd, named pitcher of the week by various outlets after his performance in Houston at the Shriners Classic was a bright spot out of the bullpen in Sunday’s loss after the Trojans knocked out UCLA’s starter in the fourth inning. Hurd went 4 1/3 innings without allowing an earned run and gave the Bruins a chance to get back in the game. It was a big time outing for the freshman that even in defeat, could yield bigger results down the road for UCLA.

But the Bruins could not overcome the start by Charlie Hurley who allowed just two runs over six innings before a duo out of the USC bullpen led by Matt Keating preserved the 6-3 victory along with the weekend series.

USC traveled across town to UCLA and took the series 2-1.

No. 22 Arizona at California

Arizona looked to be in control of Friday’s game as the led 8-2 going to the bottom of the sixth inning. But the Golden Bears rallied back and their four-run bottom of the ninth gave them a walk-off 9-8 win. Christian Becerra and Chris Stamos kept Arizona scoreless in the final 3 2/3 innings, and Cal's pitching staff struck out 14 Wildcat batters.

Saturday’s middle game was tied at 2 going into the seventh inning, but then the Arizona offense came to life and scored eight runs in the final three innings. Four players went 3-for-4 in a balanced offensive attack where the team knocked out seventeen hits. The Wildcats received a strong outing on the mound from Garrett Irvin who went six innings and allowed just three runs before a trio of Arizona relief pitchers finished the job and closed out the 10-1 blowout.

Daniel Susac hit two home runs for the Wildcats in the first inning of Sunday’s rubber match, part of a nine run first inning in which the contest was over well before it hit started. Arizona got a solid six inning start from Dawson Netz (2-0) on the way to taking the series from the Golden Bears on the road with the 13-5 win.

After being walked-off and losing a one run game to open the series, Arizona won the weekend and outscored Cal 23-6 in the final two games.

Washington at Utah

Washington and Utah got their weekend series started on Saturday with a doubleheader in Salt Lake City in the only weekend Pac-12 matchup that did not feature a ranked team.

Tied at three in the tenth inning, Washington scored three runs to take the lead and eventually won the game 6-3. Right-handed Matthew Sox was outstanding for the Utes in a losing effort. Six retired fifteen batters in a row over one stretch and he struck out nine in seven innings.

The Huskies jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the top of the first in game two of the doubleheader. The Utes tied the game in the fourth with a five-run inning of their own. Utah catcher Carter Booth tripled with the bases loaded; his three RBI led his team in the second game. Bryson Van Sickle was clutch out of the Utah bullpen giving his team 3 1/3 innings of scoreless baseball and Utah held on to win 7-6.

Utah’s Cam Day was the pitching star in Sunday’s series finale. Day tossed 6 1/3 innings and allowed Washington their only run in the fifth inning on his way to his first victory of 2022 in the 3-1 win. Utah scored two runs in the bottom of the first and added a run in the fourth. Both teams had five hits in Sunday’s game, and both committed one error defensively in what proved to be an evenly match game and series overall.

After dropping the first game, Utah took the next two to win the home series 2-1.

Final Thoughts

No team in the Pac-12 swept their series this weekend, whether at home or on the road. Every team showed that at times, they can easily score enough runs to compete down to the wire. Friday night starters got hit pretty good, so that might indicate changes to the rotation before the conference tournament arrives, or for the teams that do not panic to make a change, those are just lessons learned, lumps taken on the road to the bigger picture.

Where Friday starters did not fare well, Sunday starters also struggled, which is problematic once teams get into the conference championship scenarios and then hopefully into the NCAA tournament, when the schedules are less formulaic and teams reach the point where they have to “win or go home.”

Despite the outcomes of opening weekend, Stanford and Oregon State appear poised to lead the Pac-12 based on their strong, experienced lineups. UCLA is close behind with their young lineup that has proven it can be good, but as with USC, has proven it can be stopped. Arizona is right there as well; they have many returning pieces from their team that made a run to Omaha a year ago, but they do have many new faces and a new head coach.

Arizona State was the only team not to enter conference play this weekend as the “odd man out” with eleven baseball teams, so their chance to get into the mix still awaits them.


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