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Beavers will find a new set of faces in Omaha.

Byline: Bob Clark The Register-Guard

COLLEGE WORLD SERIES

CORVALLIS - Oregon State is one of a kind in college baseball this week, the only team to earn a repeat trip to the College World Series.

`It's quite an accomplishment,' Stanford coach Mark Marquess said after his team was beaten by the Beavers in the NCAA Super Regionals.

The College World Series begins in Omaha, Neb., on Friday, with OSU's first game Saturday at 11 a.m. PDT against Miami (41-22). The format is two pools of four teams each, with the winner of each pool advancing to a best-of-three series for the NCAA title.

Also in OSU's pool and playing Saturday are Rice and Georgia. The games opening the College World Series on Friday are North Carolina against Cal State-Fullerton, and Clemson against Georgia Tech.

While all of those teams except Georgia Tech have made more College World Series appearances than OSU's three - topped by the 21 of Miami - does that really carry that much weight anymore?

Consider how college baseball has changed, Marquess suggested, in his three decades of coaching at Stanford that includes 13 appearances in the College World Series that earned two titles and three runner-up finishes.

Only four or five teams could be considered as serious contenders for the national title 20 years ago, according to the Stanford coach, but now a season begins with what Marquess estimated to be `30 or 40' schools with realistic NCAA championship aspirations.

To reach the College World Series in consecutive seasons, Marquess said, is a great credit to OSU coach Pat Casey `for what he's done here. It's not easy wherever you are.'

It's not entirely a surprise that the Beavers (44-14) contended for a repeat trip. The pitching staff of last season returned intact, and added an important transfer as a starter. At three of the four infield positions, there was a returnee with starting experience. Ditto with two of the outfield spots. And the catcher was back.

`You know you've got a good club coming back, but the one thing you can see right now is there are seven real good clubs that were (in the CWS) last year that aren't playing any more,' Casey said.

So what makes the Beavers different? It's the experience of last year, and some of those key players wanting to experience it again.

`Obviously, the goal when we came back here in September was to get back to Omaha,' Pac-10 player of the year Cole Gillespie said.

So the Beavers won the Pac-10 title, again, and then swept through two rounds of NCAA regionals at Goss Stadium to earn a flight Wednesday to Omaha.

`We're not satisfied with where we are right now,' Gillespie said. `We're going (to Omaha) to win one more thing.'

Is it realistic?

`It always gets down to pitching and that's why they're as good as they are for the past two seasons, the (OSU) pitching is outstanding,' Marquess said. `They've got depth, they've got a good bullpen, they've got a closer and they've got three starters. That's why they've got to be considered a contender.'

Plus, said Marquess as he analyzed the Beavers, `they play good defense, they've got good speed, they've got a little bit of power ...'

And with all that, the Beavers have played very well in sweeping through five NCAA tournament games. The OSU hitters have combined for a .331 batting average in those five games, and the pitchers have a cumulative earned run average of 2.40 in NCAA outings.

In those five games, covering 45 innings, the Beavers have committed a total of four errors.

`Our guys are playing with a lot of confidence,' Casey said. `They just don't panic. They play with intensity but they play loose.'

They may, in fact, be playing as well as they have all season. The current run for the Beavers is 10 wins in 11 games, and during that stretch, OSU is 7-1 against NCAA tournament teams, the one loss to UCLA in the game that came after the Pac-10 title had been clinched, and was almost meaningless to OSU.

`When you've got everybody healthy, it sure makes a big difference,' Casey said, in reference to his roster finally being at full strength.

So now comes the College World Series, where the Beavers last year were eliminated with consecutive defeats, their one disappointing finish of that breakthrough year.

`We were the new kid on the block when we arrived (in Omaha and) we might have been a little hesitant about what we were going to do,' OSU senior Chris Kunda said.

`This year ... a lot of us know what it's like to get there with all the hoopla and excitement.

`Everybody is playing real well right now. Everybody is excited to get on that plane in a couple days. We wanted to get back there and we're going to win it all.'

CORRECTION (ran 6/14/2006): Oregon State's opening game of the College World Series against Miami will be played Saturday at 4 p.m. PDT. Due to an editing error, the time was listed incorrectly Tuesday on Page C1.
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jun 13, 2006
Words:856
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