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Beavers look every bit a title contender

CORVALLIS — I know, it's a little early. The 2017 college baseball season hasn't even hit April yet.

I had my first opportunity Sunday to catch Oregon State in action — against Arizona in the third and final game of their Pac-12 series at Goss Stadium at Coleman Field.

Pat Casey's Beavers are impressive. In a matchup of two top-10 ranked teams, Oregon State completed a sweep of the Wildcats with an 11-7 victory before 2,981 on a cold, damp day in the Willamette Valley.

OSU, which entered last week ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in all the major polls, finished with 15 hits off four Arizona pitchers as it improved to 20-1 on the season and 6-0 in the Pac-12. The Beavers have won 15 straight.

It marked the first time in school history the Beavers have swept Arizona State and Arizona in the same season. The last conference team to pull it off was Stanford in 1999.

Sunday's OSU win over Arizona (16-7, 2-4 Pac-12) followed come-from-behind victories on Friday and Saturday. The Beavers scored three runs in the bottom of the first inning and never trailed, building their lead to 11-3 in the seventh before the Wildcats made it interesting with four runs in the eighth.

"I'm not surprised at all," said OSU sophomore second baseman Nick Madrigal. "This is what we set out to do since the beginning of the year. It's definitely a great start, but we've got more to go. If you're not number one at the end of the year it doesn't really mean much."

"It's definitely big," Oregon State junior left fielder Jack Anderson said of sweeping Arizona, which advanced to the College World Series finals last year before losing to Coastal Carolina. "Being 6-0 (in conference) is a great feeling, but we've got another big series (at Stanford) next weekend."

The Beavers appear very motivated after being snubbed for the NCAA Tournament in 2016. OSU finished 35-19 — its eighth straight season with at least 30 victories — and tied ASU and Arizona for third in the Pac-12 at 16-14. But Oregon State wasn't among the 64 teams picked for the postseason.

"That's a great team over there. That's a national championship-caliber team," Arizona coach Jay Johnson told the Portland Tribune following Sunday's game. "They've had a couple of them, and I'm sure coach Casey would tell you this team is right in there with those two clubs. A very complete team."

The Wildcats entered the weekend as the top hitting team in the country.

"It was huge," said sophomore OSU right fielder Trevor Larnach. "We knew that coming in ... I think most of college baseball knew that coming in. It's just nice to see how we compare to a team like that, and teams across the nation."

The Beavers were forced to use five pitchers against Arizona Sunday, but the offense stepped up. Anderson and junior designated hitter KJ Harrison each stroked three hits, while Larnach and sophomore centerfielder Elliott Cary added two apiece. Eight players had at least one hit.

Oregon State had no seniors in its starting lineup Sunday. Junior right-hander Jake Thompson, a Siuslaw High School product, got the start on the mound.

Thompson (5-0 record, 1.42 ERA) went 4 2/3 innings, but didn't get the decision. He allowed four hits and two earned runs, striking out six and walking four.

Thompson probably would've picked up the win if the Beavers turned a potential inning-ending double play in the fifth inning. With one out, sophomore shortstop Cadyn Grenier dropped the ball transferring it from his glove, and the Wildcats went on to score three times to get within 5-3.

Brandon Eisert, Grant Gambrell, Mitchell Verburg and Jake Mulholland also pitched for the Beavers, Eisert going 2 1/3 innings to get the win.

"Our pitching has been great," Madrigal said. "Thankfully, the offense helped them out this weekend."

The Beavers entered Sunday with a collective ERA of 1.25. Junior left-hander Luke Heimlich (4-0, 0.42) is the Friday night starter and sophomore right-hander Bryce Fehmel (3-1, 2.31) is second in the rotation.

"(The offense) was really important today when you give up seven runs," Casey said.

Oregon State plays a nonconference game at St. Mary's Tuesday, then visits Stanford (13-6, 2-1) for a three-game series beginning Friday.

"I've been part of three great teams (at OSU), but this is a special one," Anderson said. "We've got to stay humble and keep being hungry."

Oregon State junior KJ Harrison slides safely into second under Arizona shortstop Kyle Lewis' tag in Saturday's win. [THE ASSOCIATED PRESS]
Oregon State celebrates Friday's come-from-behind win over Arizona in Corvallis. [THE ASSOCIATED PRESS]