Oregon State baseball beats Utah Utes 4-3 for 6th straight win, but sloppy Beavers leave unsatisfied

His team won its sixth consecutive game. His closer tied the school record for saves. His team strengthened its stranglehold on first place in the Pac-12 Conference.

But Oregon State baseball coach Mitch Canham couldn’t help but feel unsatisfied as he left the home dugout at Goss Stadium Thursday night following a 4-3 victory over the Utah Utes.

He shook his head at the 10 free passes his pitching staff allowed. He grumbled about the nine Beavers left on base. He bellyached about his hitter’s lack of plate discipline, a stolen base allowed and a lackadaisical defensive play that allowed Utah to advance a runner from first to third on a single to left field.

“It wasn’t as clean as we want it to be,” Canham said. “I just know that every game we go out and play, we’re playing against really good teams in the Pac-12. If the goal is to go out and win in Omaha and bring home a national championship, you’ve got to do all the little things right. You can’t have a couple of weak moments, you can’t have rough games.”

The good news is that even a messy game from the Beavers often ends in victory. And sprinkled amid the seven walks and three hit batters from the pitching staff was another gem from the bullpen, as Mitchell Verburg, Chase Watkins and Jake Mulholland combined to allow just one run over 4 1/3 innings. And scattered among the suspect plate discipline were quality at bats from Jake Dukart (4 for 4, double, RBI), Jacob Melton (3 for 4, triple) and Garret Forrester (1 for 2, two walks, RBI-double).

And in the end, it was enough to nudge the Beavers (19-5, 6-1 Pac-12) to a sloppy win over the Utes (5-14, 2-5) in the opener of a three-game series.

The Beavers did the bulk of their damage in the bottom of the fifth inning, when they loaded the bases with no outs and slogged their way to three runs. Dukart produced the first when he tapped a slow roller down the third base line to elicit a throw home, which Micah McDowell narrowly beat. Troy Claunch followed with a sacrifice fly to right field to score Ryan Ober, and three batters later, after the Beavers loaded the bases again, Forrester scored on a wild pitch.

The three-run fifth gave the Beavers a 4-2 lead, which proved to be just enough.

Mulholland ran into uncharacteristic trouble in the ninth, when he walked two batters and allowed a two-out RBI-single to pinch-hitter Shea Kramer. It was the first run and just the second hit the dominant left-handed closer has allowed in nine appearances this season. When Jaylon McLaughlin stepped to the plate a batter later, the tying run was standing on third base.

But Mulholland regrouped in time to make history, forcing McLaughlin to ground out to shortstop to end the game. Mulholland earned his seventh save of the season and 37th of his career, tying Beavers great Kevin Gunderson for the most in school history.

“He left us on our toes a little bit tonight, but he finished the job like he always does,” Dukart said of Mulholland. “He’s one of the best closers in the country for a reason.”

Verburg (2-0) earned the win with 2 1/3 innings of scoreless relief, during which he allowed two hits and struck out three.

But Canham didn’t want his players focusing on school records or individual victories or even team winning streaks as they left Goss Stadium Thursday night. The Beavers have championship aspirations and their play against Utah was far from championship-caliber.

“Wins are awesome,” Canham said. “We love them. They put a big smile on your face. They help you sleep at night. But at the same time … it’s about the process piece of it and what are the learning moments we have from today, because we need to clean them up.”

Joe Freeman | [email protected] | 503-294-5183 | @BlazerFreeman | Subscribe to The Oregonian/OregonLive newsletters and podcasts for the latest news and top stories.

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