Oregon State baseball faces Kentucky in a super regional showdown

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Mitch Canham isn’t a fan of simply throwing in his headphones during a cross-country flight, or using the free time as an opportunity to sneak in a nap.

The fifth-year head coach of Oregon State baseball tends to use even the most mundane travel days as opportunities for growth. When the Beavers’ bus broke down with a flat tire during a midweek trip from Pullman to Spokane, Washington, earlier this year, Canham saw it as a “great opportunity” for his team.

“There it is for 9 p.m. to 5 a.m., have a nice nap,” Canham joked. “During the day it’s about communicating, being part of it and enjoying those moments.”

Oregon State’s tight, talented roster will face its toughest test of the season this weekend as it travels to the No. 2 Kentucky Wildcats in the Lexington Super Regional. Canham and his staff will use the four-and-a-half-hour flight to Lexington to dial in the smallest details. They will judge scouting reporters. They meet the players individually. They will complete their preparation with the hope that the same process that helped them emerge as a West Coast powerhouse this spring will propel them through a raw, hostile environment in the Southeast.

“We’ve been playing good baseball all around, I think. We’re in a good place confidence-wise,” Oregon State starting pitcher Jacob Kmatz said of the Beavers’ mentality after the Corvallis Regional. “Everyone is clicking on all cylinders right now.”

Oregon State roster updates

The Beavers arrive in Lexington with an almost entirely healthy roster available. That could lead to some tough decisions for Canham and the staff is looking to reduce their roster to the postseason limit of 27 players.

At this time, senior pitcher AJ Lattery is the only OSU player whose health status is uncertain. The veteran right-hander took over on the mound in the fourth inning of OSU’s victory over UC Irvine in the regional final, holding the Anteaters to one hit and one earned run in 1 2/3 innings.

However, on his 34th pitch of the day, Lattery appeared to experience some discomfort. He left the field with an OSU coach and was replaced by AJ Hutcheson.

“We’re going to find out today,” Canham said Wednesday when asked if Lattery will be available to pitch during the super regional. “We’ll see how everyone reacts to throwing the baseball today. It didn’t seem that crazy. I think it was a little more tightness, like muscular. So that’s a good sign. We’ll find out once we get out there and play catch today.”

Lattery has missed three months this season due to injury, pitching just 7.0 innings in four appearances. But since returning to the field in late May, he has been a key figure for the Beavers. He started in an “opener” role during OSU’s Pac-12 Tournament loss to Stanford and held the Cardinal scoreless for 1 2/3 innings.

Lattery was one of only five Oregon State relievers featured at the Corvallis Regional.

Canham said he and his staff would finalize their 27-man super regional squad after Wednesday’s training.

“We’re flying out (Thursday) morning, so it has to happen quickly,” Canham said. “With a different format – a three-game series instead of possibly a five-game series – I think you might not have to be so heavy on the arms. You might want to bring an extra position guy. … But I didn’t want to do it too early, just to make sure everyone’s body is in a good place.”

What’s next at third base for the Beavers?

Oregon State got a big boost last week when freshman Trent Caraway made his long-awaited return after a finger injury that sidelined him for six weeks.

Prior to his injury, Caraway was performing as one of the top hitters in the Pac-12. His .350 batting average ranks third among OSU players this spring — albeit in a limited sample size of just 60 plate appearances.

Caraway got the starting nod at third base during the first two games of the Corvallis Regional, and his performance was a bit of a mixed bag. He went 2-for-3 with an RBI in his first game back, but struggled from a defensive standpoint. Caraway made two throwing errors in Friday’s win and another error in a win over UC Irvine the next day.

Jabin Trosky, a smooth sophomore shortstop, came on as a late-inning defensive replacement for Caraway during both games. Then Trosky started third in Monday’s win over UC Irvine.

“Obviously we have two very good options,” Canham said. “Jabin has had a phenomenal year. It’s very difficult to adjust from the middle, usually to a corner position. But he’s done a great job; you have to play a little lower and shorter and it’s a different pitch.” But he’s done a fantastic job (Caraway) is still trying to work his way back, to feel better after not being able to play baseball for a long time and breaking his finger.

“I think we have two great options. That will be a decision we have to make. We are excited about both.”

Oregon State’s backstop conundrum

Kentucky’s aggressiveness on the basepaths could potentially dictate the lineup Oregon State deploys in Lexington.

The Beavers have two quality catchers in Wilson Weber and Tanner Smith. Weber has the superior bat; his 967 on-base plus slugging is significantly better than Smith’s .796. But Smith is much better at controlling runners. He has allowed eleven stolen bases and thrown out thirteen runners this season, while Weber has allowed eighteen and thrown out only two.

During Oregon State’s regional opener against Tulane in Corvallis last weekend, Smith got the starting nod, while Weber started both of the Beavers’ wins over UC Irvine.

“I have all the confidence in the world in those guys,” Kmatz said of Smith and Weber. “(Weber) and Tanner are both going to block like crazy and throw guys out when we need to. I’m not worried about them.”

Jarrid Denney covers high school sports and Oregon State for the Statesman Journal. He can be reached at [email protected] or at X @jarrid_denney