Doug Kroll is an editor for CSTV.com, focusing on baseball. E-mail
Flashback to the end of the 2004 season. OregonState was wrapping up a 31-22 season while going just 10-14 in the Pac-10 by dropping 2-of-3 at home to UCLA. The Beavers finished sixth in the nine team conference.
No one, not even OregonState coach Pat Casey could have dreamt what was to happen since. Not even if you could go back in time and tell him that in the next three seasons, he'd be at the helm of three Omaha-bound teams and the owner of two national championship rings. Who in their right mind would believe you?
Especially from a team that had not been to the College World Series since 1952, and from a school that had won only one national championship ever--the 1961 cross country title.
"I would have told you that I'd take it, and that I'm a dreamer and a worker," Casey said. "But I'm also a realist. I probably would have told you that if that happens, call me when it's over and I'll never coach again."
Unfortunately for the Pac-10 and the rest of the nation, Casey's not retired. The juggernaut he's built in the Pacific Northwest searches for its improbable third straight championship in 2008.
Consider only five schools have ever won back-to-back national championships after the Beavers accomplished that feat a season ago. Texas (1949-1950), USC (1970-1974), Stanford (1987-1988) and LSU (1996-1997).
Win again in 2008, and the Beavers join just the Trojans as the only teams to have ever won three straight.
But it's not going to be easy. Not that the 2007 season was a piece of cake.
The Beavers were almost down for the count. They almost didn't have a chance to even make a run at defending their title. Casey's squad finished with a 10-14 record in conference play. The same exact mark as in 2004.
Thanks to a 49-18 overall record, the fact they were the sixth best team in the Pac-10 didn't matter. All they needed was a chance, and a trip to Charlottesville as the No. 3 seed was in order.
It was right there in Virginia that Casey knew they were on their way.
"I think last year when went to Virginia and we beat Rutgers for the first time, then we lost to Virginia, beat Rutgers again and beat Virginia," Casey explained of a surreal feeling, "it's crazy to feel the way I did because we hadn't even won the regional yet, but it followed us on the bus and it followed us to the hotel and it followed us to the field, that there was something about that team that I honestly sat down in the front seat of that bus and said `we're not going to lose again.'"
Ten straight wins OregonState pulled off en route to the title. It's now 2008, however, and as much as the team has accomplished the last three years, it means nothing come February 22.
Two guys that maybe had the most to do with the three-year run are gone. Catcher Mitch Canham and shortstop Darwin Barney were not only captains on the field, but team leaders in ways that are irreplaceable.
"We're confident right now that we have a lot of talent," senior first baseman Jordan Lennerton said. "It's hard to replace guys like them, but there are guys stepping up taking leadership roles. It's a chance for guys to take on different roles."
"There's a time to pay your respects and there's a time to become your own club," Casey said of turning the page. "This club is drastically different because you had a warrior behind the plate for four years and a guy at shortstop for three that was as good as anyone in the country and had a tremendous leadership as far as the game."
The cupboard wasn't left completely bare. They'll still have the College World Series MVP toeing the rubber in sophomore Jorge Reyes, and a senior starter in Mike Stutes.
Those two will be relied heavily upon, but it's something that Stutes looks forward to after leading last year's team with 22 starts and a 12-4 record while pitching to the tune of a 4.07 ERA.
"There are guys stepping up like Jorge Reyes who had a fantastic postseason," Stutes said of his fellow pitcher. "I'm just trying to help out the freshmen, since I've been in this spot. Whatever I can help them with, I'll do."
Throw in sophomore second baseman Joey Wong and Lennerton, and it's not unthinkable to think the impossible: a three-peat.
The schedule will certainly have them prepared. They'll open in Tempe facing Vanderbilt and Arizona State, then off to Portland to face Georgia in the season's second weekend, only to travel back south to San Diego in week number three to face a solid Toreros squad.
After no one gave them a chance in 2007 of repeating, the doubters will be there again in '08, and that's something the Beavers are just fine with.
"I'd like to think that we have a shot," Stutes said. "The thing we've learned is that once you get [to Omaha] any one of those eight teams has a shot. The talent levels are all right there, so whoever's hot and whoever gets the bounces, as the key is to get in there."
One thing's for sure, as long as OregonState makes it to the NCAA Tournament, whoever's lined up in the other dugout may just want to get out of the way.