Bring the heat: Pac-12 adds postseason baseball tournament

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Oregon State Coach Mitch Canham paused for a few seconds to consider what the next few days of baseball would be like at Scottsdale Stadium during the first Pac-12 postseason tournament.

He envisioned some of the best college players in the country all competing in one place. He envisioned the significant number of scouts and Major League Baseball fans who will attend. Then he thought of the thermometer-busting temperatures of 105 degrees or more that could hit Arizona in the next few days.

Baseball nirvana?

“I’ll have a better answer in a few days,” Canham said, laughing.

Water and sunscreen will be plentiful over the next few days in Scottsdale, where the tournament will be played Wednesday through Sunday at the San Francisco Giants spring training home.

It’s the latest of the power conferences to add a postseason event and join the SEC, ACC, Big 12 and Big Ten they’ve all had for years.

The SEC version is particularly popular, with more than 100,000 fans making the pilgrimage to Hoover, Alabama, in late May. The Scottsdale crowd wasn’t at that level Wednesday morning for the Arizona-Oregon opener, but the hope is the event will quickly become a crowd-pleaser.

Pac-12 Assistant Commissioner Teresa Gould said the idea of ​​a postseason tournament had been discussed for at least 20 years, but those discussions barely gained momentum until recent seasons. Scottsdale expressed interest in hosting, and after some delays related to COVID-19, the tournament is a reality.

“We are thrilled that this has finally come to fruition,” Gould said.

Stanford coach David Esquer — who was voted Tuesday’s Pac-12 Coach of the Year after guiding the Cardinal to the regular-season title — said he’s excited to attend the conference’s postseason party. The top eight teams in the league qualified for the tournament, which is played in a double-elimination format. The championship game is on Sunday.

Even allowing for the desert heat, Esquer welcomes the post-season excitement.

“The last week of the regular season we just played typical games and the SEC and ACC play tournaments with all this excitement and atmosphere and the TV,” Esquer said. “Now we have a chance to do the same.”

The games will feature some of the best college talent in the nation. Oregon State pitcher Cooper Hjerpe and outfielder Jacob Melton, Stanford outfielder Brock Jones, California outfielder Dylan Beavers, Oregon shortstop Josh Kasevich and Arizona catcher Daniel Susac could all hear their names called early during the MLB draft in July.

Susac was the star of the tournament opener with two homers in Arizona’s 8-6 win over Oregon. Susac’s older brother Andrew has played six seasons in the major leagues and helped the Giants win a World Series in 2014.

“The exposure is great,” Jones said. “They have the high-profile guys that scouts want to see. Then there are guys who aren’t as flashy but show up, hit well against good pitching, play good defense, throw the ball well, and then it raises their stocks a little bit.”

Stanford is the tournament leader while Oregon State is No. 2. The Cardinal and 7th-seeded Washington both bring 12-game winning streaks into the weekend.

All eight teams come to Scottsdale with ambitions for the NCAA tournament, some more realistic than others. Teams like Stanford and Oregon State have no doubt they’ll be in the group, looking to cement their status as the top 8 national seed, leading them up to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska, starting June 16 would give a home advantage -27.

On the other end are Washington and Arizona State, who will likely need to win this weekend’s tournament to keep their seasons going.

Arizona falls somewhere in the middle of those two extremes, but Wednesday’s win certainly helps his cause. Susac said winning the first Pac-12 tournament — and hitting two homers in the win — was a big moment.

“I really enjoy it,” said Susac. “I grew up watching the SEC tournament for the last five or six years and I was like, ‘Man, that would be cool.’ It’s really cool to have our own Pac-12 tournament.”

Canham agreed, saying the rush of a double-elimination tournament is a great place to start when preparing for the NCAA tournament.

“It’s great for our guys to eliminate noise,” Canham said. “When you play in (the College World Series), there will be cameras, there will be noise. But in my experience, the best guys don’t notice the noise.

“So it’s good to get into an environment like that and see what it’s like.”


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