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June 24, 2013

Baseball team already looking ahead

Demonstrating again that baseball can indeed be a cruel sport, things went awry in the final inning of Andrew Moore's exceptional first season as an Oregon State pitcher as he surrendered hits to the last five batters he faced.

But the freshman right-hander from Eugene remained undeterred, refusing to allow one bad inning spoil an otherwise successful season for himself and his team, saying he couldn't wait for next year to begin.

Moore threw one bad pitch in his 4-2/3 inning stint against Mississippi State last Friday, leaving a hanging curve ball up in the zone to Hunter Renfroe, who showed why he was a first-round draft choice by walloping the tantalizing pitch over the left-field wall for a three-run homer, the decisive blow in OSU's 4-1 loss to the surging Bulldogs that eliminated the Beavers from the College World Series.

While the 2013 ended on a disappointing note for OSU, the Beavers won a school record 52 games and advanced to Omaha for the fifth time in school history.

An appealing centerpiece of the 2014 team along with left fielder Michael Conforto, right fielder Dylan Davis, and reliever Max Engelbrekt, Moore will somehow try to better his eye-popping numbers from this past season that earned him multiple post-season accolades: 14-2, 1.79 ERA in 131 innings with 72 strikeouts and just 28 walks.





"It was an incredible experience coming to Omaha and a game like this is just going to make us work harder next year," said Moore, who had a happy homecoming in May when he blanked Civil War rival Oregon with a complete game two-hitter. "We have a solid corps coming back, so we're going to have to take all the pain we're feeling right now and use that inspiration to get better and get bigger. Once next year starts, we can't let this affect us and move forward."

With senior left-hander Matt Boyd moving on to professional baseball after being taken in the sixth round by Toronto, Moore should serve as OSU's Friday night starter in 2014.

Conforto, the Pac-12 Player of the Year as a true sophomore in 2013, should enter next year as a legitimate National Player of the Year contender after batting .328 with a team-high 11 homers and 47 RBI.

Another season like the one he just enjoyed and the likelihood of Conforto being drafted in the first round next June is very good.

"Omaha is a crazy play and we had a lot of fun while we were here," Conforto said after the second loss to Mississippi State. "It's just very frustrating the way we ended it. There are a lot of positives we can take from this. We're going to grow as a team. We have a lot of guys coming back. At the same time, it's really tough seeing the seniors and those drafted guys go. This team is as close any team has ever been."

Even though he batted .438 (7-for-16) in four CWS games with four doubles and two RBI, Conforto turned heads in Omaha with his underrated defensive skills, gunning down two runners at the plate and making an amazing leaping catch in front of the wall last Friday.

Conforto finished his second season as a Beaver with nine assists in 65 games, a remarkable number for an outfielder.

"We've been talking all year about how good of a defender he is," Oregon State head coach Pat Casey said. "He gets great jumps on the ball. He was an inspiration to our club. Michael is a great defender and a tremendous outfielder."

Davis, OSU's leading hitter (.335, five homers, 61 RBI) this past season, is also back to give Oregon State perhaps one of the best outfields in the country in 2014, along with undrafted juniors Andy Peterson (.333), who played a steady second base this season, and third baseman Kavin Keyes (.316).

Several junior draftees - lefthander Ben Wetzler (5th round, Philadelphia), reliever Scott Schultz (17th round, Miami), reliever Dan Child (18th round, Philadelphia) and catcher Jake Rodriguez (19th round, Houston) have decisions to make - either sign pro contracts or return for their senior seasons.

As Casey pointed out, seven of the eight teams that arrive in Omaha in mid-June see their otherwise stellar seasons end with a defeat, So, falling to Mississippi State in the bracket championship round - meaning the Beavers reached the 'Final Four' of college baseball - qualifies as something to be proud of.

"There are no bad nights in Omaha," Casey replied when asked if the Beavers' offense had a couple of "bad nights" in their final two games (1-0 win over Indiana and loss to Mississippi State). "It certainly isn't the way we planned it. It wasn't a lack of effort. We couldn't get a hit when we needed one. That's happened before to all teams. Obviously, we faced some very good pitching. That's why they're here."

Ascending to college baseball's Holy Grail for the first time since 2007 is an achievement Oregon State can build on when fall practice begins in a few months in Corvallis.

"We had a heckuva year. We couldn't get some things to go for us (Friday) offensively," Casey said. "I don't want to take away from what these guys accomplished this year. Seven teams show up in Omaha and lose their last game and feel like they've had a poor season.

"We're not hanging our head at all. Our guys are obviously disappointed, but they're mostly disappointed in the fact they won't get a chance to play together as a team again. But Oregon State University is very proud of our baseball team."


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