Pac-12 crown hanging in balance as Oregon baseball turns attention to Civil War

Sophomore second baseman Aaron Payne (20) is welcomed back to the dugout after scoring a game-tying run. (Nate Barrett/Oregon Daily Emerald)

Sophomore second baseman Aaron Payne (20) is welcomed back to the dugout after scoring a game-tying run. (Nate Barrett/Oregon Daily Emerald)

Posted by Isaac Rosenthal on Thursday, May. 24 at 2:03 pm.

Oh, how the tables have turned.

Last season, Oregon State traveled to PK Park for the final series of the regular season with a chance to win the Pac-10 Championship in enemy territory. This time around, it’s the Ducks who have a chance to win a conference title in the rival’s backyard. Oregon (42-14, 19-8 Pac-12) needs a series win to claim a share of the Pac-12 title and would win it outright with a sweep of the Beavers (35-18, 15-12 Pac-12). But even with the pivotal series finally here, the Ducks are doing their best to stay level-headed.

“It’s exciting,” first baseman Ryon Healy said. “But you know it’s one day at a time.”

While the Ducks have had the series circled on their schedule for months, it wasn’t until after Wednesday night’s victory over Portland that they were finally able to start focusing on the series. With two such well-acquainted teams, though, there’s not much preparation to be done.

“It’s the kind of series that there’s no secret,” head coach George Horton said.

Horton compared the series to the rivalry his Cal State Fullerton teams had with Long Beach State because both teams — and both coaching staffs — knew each other’s tendencies so well. That familiarity makes for a challenging set of games — and that’s exactly what Horton wants.

“I came here to coach an important series,” he said. “It’s everything that college baseball should be. There will be Duck fans there and a lot of Beaver fans, and they’ll be into it. I would suspect that it will be a good series — it’ll be a well-coached series, it’ll be a well-played series and hopefully, it will be a fair-and-square series.”

Oregon State manager Pat Casey needs just one win in the series to become the all-time winningest coach at Oregon State. Casey’s 613 career wins as the Beavers’ skipper is currently tied with Jack Riley for most all time — though, Riley took four more years to reach 613 wins than Casey did.

The series opens on Friday night with Oregon starting pitcher Alex Keudell (10-3) looking to expand on his own Oregon record for single-season wins. A win for him would also give him 23 for his career, breaking a school record he now shares with Dean Kegler. As nice as it would be to break that record against Oregon State, Keudell says he won’t change his mentality when he takes the mound at Goss Stadium.

“We take every game the same way,” the senior righthander said. “Whether we’re playing Portland or Seattle or Oregon State.”

While the Ducks control their own destiny in the Pac-12 race, they’re far from the only team who could take home a title. Entering the final weekend of Pac-12 play, the Ducks are one of five Pac-12 teams with a chance to win the conference crown. Arizona could win the league with three wins and at least one Duck loss, while UCLA, Stanford and Arizona State would need a sweep and three Duck losses.

Oregon will look to avoid a repeat of its last trip to Corvallis, where they lost three straight games in 2010.

“Those were good baseball games, but we got the short end of the stick,” Horton said. “It wasn’t a very good feeling driving home from Corvallis three times in a row.”

He did caution that the Ducks need to be playing to win and not simply playing not to lose.

The Ducks and Beavers split two nonconference games this season at PK Park, with the Beavers trouncing the Ducks 7-1 on April 24 and Oregon striking back on May 8. But the Ducks aren’t putting too much stock in those results.

“It’s going to be a whole new series,” Healy said. “It’s weekend arms; it will be a different feel, different atmosphere.”