In what might be the most important series in Husky baseball history — certainly in recent history — Washington will have a chance to reclaim first place in the Pac-12 Conference this weekend at Oregon State.
Perhaps more important, the Huskies will have their first real chance to wrestle away the Beavers’ decade-old stranglehold of Northwest supremacy.
The Huskies, ranked fifth by Baseball America and sporting their highest national ranking ever, are 19-5 in Pac-12 play entering Friday’s opener of the three-game series in Corvallis, one game back of the second-ranked Beavers (39-8, 20-4 Pac-12). Each team has six conference games remaining.
The Huskies (37-11-1 overall) are seeking their first conference title since 1998. Oregon State, which won back-to-back College World Series titles in 2006 and ’07, is eyeing its second straight Pac-12 title and fourth since 2005.
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The Beavers announced that all three games at the 3,248-seat Goss Stadium have been sold out.
“They’re the team to beat in the Northwest,” UW senior outfielder Brian Wolfe said, “and that’s what we’re trying to do here: be the team to beat. In order to get that name or title, we have to go through them.”
Oregon State junior left fielder Michael Conforto, the reigning Pac-12 player of the year, could be the first hitter selected in next month’s major-league draft. He leads the Pac-12 in batting average (.393), slugging (.632) and on-base percentage (.545). And, yes, Conforto is a local product — a 2011 graduate of Redmond High.
The Beavers’ cleanup hitter, Dylan Davis, who leads the Pac-12 with 62 RBI, is also a 2011 Redmond graduate.
UW coach Lindsay Meggs didn’t strike out in recruiting Conforto and Davis as much as he felt he never got a chance to take a swing. Meggs was hired at UW in July 2009. By then, he said, Conforto and Davis were already “dug in” with Oregon State.
With a beautiful new ballpark that opened in March and a breakthrough season, Meggs is “way more optimistic about keeping” local talent home.
“That’s critical for us to move forward and be successful,” he said.
As it is, Meggs has had surprising success with the last recruit who remains from his first UW signing class. That would be Wolfe, a fifth-year senior from Snohomish who is second in the Pac-12 with a .382 batting average. Wolfe entered this season with .215 average in 200 at-bats. Earlier this week, he was named a candidate (along with UW right-hander Tyler Davis) for the national “breakout” player of the year award.
“It’s very special. I feel very blessed to be here and … I want to take every advantage of it and enjoy it with the people around me,” Wolfe said. “It’s not about any one person on the team. It’s not about the seniors. It’s not about the stadium. It’s about this group and what we’re here to do.”
The Huskies, 14-3 on the road this season, carry an eight-game winning streak into Corvallis. The Beavers have won 12 in row. Both teams are a lock to earn a postseason bid, and a series win over OSU would solidify the Huskies’ bid to host a four-team regional tournament — and perhaps their bid to host a Super Regional, too, should they advance that far.
“This is a critical weekend for us,” Meggs said. “We’re going to go down there and be loose and have fun and hopefully play the game as well as we can play it.”
• The Huskies will go with their regular rotation for the series, with Jared Fisher (5-3, 4.32) starting Friday. Davis (10-1, 1.77) will start Saturday and Jeff Brigham (6-2, 3.04) on Sunday.
• Meggs said he “would be surprised” if Oregon State ace Ben Wetzler doesn’t pitch against UW on Friday. Wetzler, who is 9-1 with an NCAA-best 0.94 ERA, was arrested Saturday night in Corvallis and charged with criminal mischief and first-degree criminal trespassing. Oregon State coach Pat Casey said he would announce any disciplinary action before Friday’s game.
Adam Jude: 206-464-2364
On Twitter: @a_jude