Oregon State has won 111 of its last 130 baseball games and is coming off its third national championship since 2006. Also, its career coaching wins leader, Pat Casey, retired last fall.
Enter Pat Bailey, the 63-year-old interim head coach who hopes to earn the permanent job for 2020.
“People think there’s a lot of pressure,” Bailey said. “I’m going to be who I am. I can’t be somebody else. In terms of the pressure part, I just think people a lot of times put undue pressure on themselves and make things out to be a lot bigger than what they are.”
Bailey has been through this before, though not at this level. He was successor to Casey at George Fox University in Newberg and won the NCAA Division III championship four years before he joined Casey’s Oregon State staff in 2008. As a high school coach in Oregon, Bailey replaced a two-time state champion coach at West Linn and led the program to a state runner-up finish before he left for George Fox.
Oregon State athletic director Scott Barnes named Bailey interim coach last September when Casey announced he was retiring after 24 seasons. Casey remains as a senior associate athletic director. Bailey’s task is to keep the Beavers doing what they have been doing.
“Our expectations are extremely high,” he said.
The Beavers begin the defense of their national title in Surprise, Arizona, when the Division I season opens Friday. They open against New Mexico, play Gonzaga on Saturday and then Minnesota, the team they beat in last year’s super regionals, on Sunday.
Kevin Abel, who as a freshman won a record four games in the College World Series and threw a two-hit shutout against Arkansas in Game 3 of the finals, heads a pitching staff that remains mostly intact. Bryce Fehmel, a 10-game winner last year, and Grant Gambrell are the Nos. 2 and 3 starters, and 16-save closer Jake Mulholland returns.
The Beavers posted some of the best numbers in program history last year, and six of the players from the everyday lineup are gone. They still have catcher Adley Rutschman, the 2018 CWS Most Outstanding Player and possible No. 1 pick in the Major League Baseball draft in June, along with first baseman Zak Taylor and outfielder Preston Jones.
“I think we’re going to be fine offensively,” Bailey said. “We’re going to score runs. We’re going to find ways. And honestly, batting average isn’t as important as on-base percentage and run production. That’s what we’re working on.”
The Beavers, 12th in the nation in fielding last year, are without No. 4 overall draft pick Nick Madrigal at second base and Pac-12 defensive player of the year Cadyn Greiner at shortstop. Andy Armstrong will start at second after filling in for an injured Madrigal last season. Junior-college transfer Beau Phillip takes over at shortstop. Bailey is undecided on who will play third base. Joe Casey or Jones will play left field, Kyler McMahon or Jones will be in center, and Tyler Malone will be in right.
The OSU roster includes two former Central Oregon high school stars — infielder George Mendazona, from Redmond’s Ridgeview High, and outfielder Elliot Wiley, a Bend High grad — both redshirt sophomores.
The Beavers will be going for a third straight CWS appearance. In 2017, they won their first two games in Omaha before going out with two straight losses to LSU. Last year, they lost their CWS opener before winning four straight to reach the best-of-three finals.
“Our freshman year, making it so far and then coming up short, there was a lot of motivation there,” Rutschman said. “I think we have the same motivation now. It’s just coming from a different place, from having won a national championship and having that unbelievable experience, knowing that nothing else besides that is really going to be the same.”