Oregon State baseball coach Pat Casey has led the Beavers to two College World Series titles, and both those teams were built on rock solid pitching.

Oregon State baseball coach Pat Casey has led the Beavers to two College World Series titles, and both those teams were built on rock solid pitching.

But even Casey has been blown away by what former Ashland High star Sam Gaviglio has done so far on the mound this season.

"Any time anybody throws the way (Gaviglio) has thrown, I'm shocked — I don't care what level it is," said Casey, whose Beavers (18-6) are ranked 20th in the ESPN/USA Today Top 25 coaches' poll. "It's unbelievably impressive. He's been razor sharp. I don't know if I've ever seen anybody throw as well as he has for as long as he has."

That's high praise from Casey, but Gaviglio's jaw-dropping numbers probably deserve such hyperbole.

The 6-foot-1 junior right-hander started the season by pitching 412/3 consecutive scoreless innings, came an eighth-inning single away from a perfect game March 18 at Long Beach State, already has two shutouts under his belt and enters tonight's Pac-10 opener at Arizona with a 0.39 ERA, 51 strikeouts and six walks in 461/3 innings.

Already 5-0, Gaviglio could face his toughest test of the season tonight against the Wildcats in a game that will feature a matchup between two of the best starting pitchers in Division I baseball — Gaviglio and Arizona sophomore Kurt Heyer. Arizona (17-7), ranked No. 17 in the ESPN/USA poll, boasts a lineup that's batting a combined .337, the fifth-best team average in the nation. Even if Gaviglio can neutralize Arizona's considerable firepower, Heyer is quite capable of keeping the Wildcats close. The 6-2 right-hander is 4-1 with a 1.33 ERA and 60 strikeouts in 471/3 innings.

Gaviglio knows the stakes are high, but seemed calm — as always — and confident after arriving in Tucson, Ariz., Thursday night.

"I'm excited about it," said Gaviglio, who led Ashland to its first-ever state championship in 2008. "It's going to be a good challenge. They're just a well-rounded team and they have a lot more contact hitters, as opposed to strikeout hitters. They don't walk a whole lot and they don't strike out."

Gaviglio's fast start represents a sort of resurgence after his so-so sophomore campaign. Following a breakout freshman year in which he emerged as the Beavers' surprise ace by season's end, Gaviglio suffered a pulled hamstring heading into the 2010 season and never fully recovered. His numbers weren't terrible — 3-4, 5.60 ERA — but they represented a regression that wasn't expected.

"My hamstring was bugging me and it threw off my delivery," Gaviglio said.

The drop-off wasn't enough to scare away the scouts, however, because in January Gaviglio was ranked 60th on Baseball Americas list of college draft prospects. His blazing start will no doubt improve his draft status, but Gaviglio, who was drafted in the 40th round by Tampa Bay but decided not to sign in 2008, is doing his best to concentrate on what will most likely be his final college season.

"I don't really like thinking about it too much," said Gaviglio, adding that he's been contacted by every major league team other than the Yankees. "I just want to focus on the college season and hopefully make it to Omaha [for the College World Series]. I've filled out some paperwork and have done some interviews "… so we'll see what happens."

A power pitcher at Ashland, Gaviglio has adapted his game to become a master of location at the collegiate level. His fastball tops out at 91 mph — about average by Division I standards — but sinks hard at the last moment and can be spotted anywhere on the plate. Gaviglio also throws a wicked change-up which used to be his "out pitch," and a curve that's serviceable, and improving. It's a three-headed monster that has baffled opposing batters.

Gaviglio ranks third nationally in ERA, but the two players ahead of him — Charlie McCready of Charleston Southern and Brad Mincey of East Carolina — have logged 20 fewer innings than Gaviglio. And in a testament to Gaviglio's phenomenal stamina, only one other pitcher ranked in the top 20 in ERA has thrown more innings than the former 5A pitcher of the year.

"He keeps the ball down and gets ahead of hitters," Casey said. "He can throw any one of his three pitches on any count.

"What he's done is remarkable. We've had some guys pitch in some bigger arenas and bigger games, but what (Gaviglio's) done is second to none."

Ashland Daily Tidings sports editor Joe Zavala can be reached at jzavala@dailytidings.com or by calling 541-776-4469.