CORVALLIS — Two years ago, Oregon State rode down to Eugene looking to come back with a conference title. The Ducks swept.
A year ago, Oregon headed north seeking a Pac-12 championship. One win would have done it. The Beavers swept.
Friday brings another Civil War and the promise of more late-season drama. Only this time, both teams have the Pac-12 title — and more — in their sights.
"They do seem to gain momentum and take on a bigger life each year,'' OSU coach Pat Casey said of the clashes with George Horton's Ducks. "That's just a tribute to both programs, to be this strong at the end of the year.''
Arguably, both teams are stronger than they ever have been. The sixth-ranked Beavers (41-8, 20-4 Pac-12) have won 12 in a row. If they win Friday night's series opener, they will have the best record after 50 games in school history. Their pitchers, with the nation's second-best ERA, have posted quality starts (six innings, three or fewer earned runs) in the last 18 Pac-12 games.
The No. 10 Ducks (40-11, 19-5) have won seven in a row going into Wednesday night's game against Gonzaga. Only twice this season have they lost by more than one run to a Pac-12 team. Last weekend, they allowed the other OSU, Ohio State, one run in 30 innings. They have seven Pac-12 pitcher of the week awards so far, and first baseman Ryon Healy is the favorite for player of the year.
"Every time you play them, it's a good game and it's good baseball,'' OSU pitcher Matt Boyd said. "It's a testament to how good baseball is in the Northwest.''
The Beavers and Ducks have been so good that both are considered strong candidates for a national seeds. That means both would have home games and favorable routes to the College World Series.
"There's room for both of us in Omaha,'' Horton said.
With both teams scheduled to go bottom-feeding next weekend — the Ducks at last-place Utah, the Beavers at home against 10th-place Washington State — the only thing, it seems, that could knock either out of those eight national seeds is ... getting swept in the Civil War.
A big series means big momentum, big enough to carry through an entire weekend. Not only did Oregon sweep in 2011 and Oregon State return the favor in 2012, but the Beavers also swept the Ducks in 2010 with three one-run victories.
"There's a reason why we swept them at home, and why they swept us at home — you get that momentum going,'' OSU shortstop Tyler Smith said. "That's why I think the first game is so big.''
That brings us back to Boyd, who will get the ball Friday night at PK Park, where the Ducks are 18-8 against ranked opponents.
"It's important to set the tone for the weekend, but we try not to put any more weight on any one game,'' Boyd said.
That one game is weighty, though. A year ago, UO's Alex Keudell took a nine-start winning streak into Friday night, and the Ducks — winners of 15 of their last 16 games — had OSU starter Ben Wetzler on the ropes in the first inning.
But with the bases loaded and two out and a full count on Kevin Shepherd, Wetzler got the strikeout, and the Beavers rallied for a 7-3 win that made Casey the school's all-time wins leader.
Saturday's game ended on a double play, with Michael Conforto gunning down a runner at the plate as the Beavers won 3-2. OSU polished off its rival 5-0 on Sunday, thanks to a solid outing by thrice surgically repaired Taylor Starr.
Two years ago, the Beavers came into Friday night with a one-game lead in the standings. After the sweep in Eugene, UCLA claimed the title and the Beavers were left to wonder how they managed just two runs in a three-game series.
The Bruins (34-15, 17-7) are again in the picture, but they would need a final-week stumble by both Oregon schools. Yes, this time it should come down to Oregon and Oregon State for the title — that hasn't happened in a major sport since the 2009 battle for the Rose Bowl.
As much as Horton extols the Beavers and talks of two Oregon schools in Omaha, these are two teams that clearly revel in the other's misfortune — even when that misfortune isn't suffered on the field in a Civil War.
A year ago, despite the Beavers' sweep of Oregon, OSU was sent to the Baton Rouge regional for the postseason, and Oregon players — watching on TV in Eugene — roared their approval of that unlucky draw.
A year before that, UO's Danny Pulfer said he wouldn't mind if Arizona State (or UCLA) won the title "if it means the Beavers don't get one.''
Boyd remembers all three sweeps very well. Last year, Boyd said "getting swept by the Ducks, that sucked,'' and now he is in the perfect position to make sure that doesn't happen again.
To many baseball fans in Oregon, the anticipation of more Civil War drama and the thought of both teams advancing to the World Series — well, maybe that would be almost as good as sweeping their rival.
"It's a great thing to accomplish, no doubt about it,'' Casey said of a CWS berth. "And if we both accomplish it, that would be great for the state of Oregon, that's for sure.''
But another sweep? That could mean great disappointment for somebody.