Historic season for OSU could end with a trip to Omaha

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Oregon State Athletics

Historic season for OSU could end with a trip to Omaha

It has been nearly a month since the Oregon State Beavers dropped a game on the diamond (an April 29 loss to USC), and with the regular season ending this weekend they look to keep it that way.

Oregon State, the consensus number one team in the country, plays host to Abilene Christian in a four-game set to end the season. The Beavers have already clinched the conference title, and even if second place Stanford wins it’s remaining three games, the Beavers will end the season with a six-game cushion. The last time a Pac-12 team won by six games or more was in 1985, when Stanford won the then Pac-10 South with a six-game lead. So let's just say it has been awhile since a Pac-12 team has taken home a conference title with such ease. 

While the Beavers have locked up a spot in the field of 64 for the NCAA Tournament, there is still plenty on the line this weekend. A series sweep of the Wildcats will all but guarantee the Beavers the No.1 overall seed (if they haven’t locked it in already), and will also cement the 2017 Beavers in the record books.

OSU needs to win its final four games to finish the season at 49-4, which would net them a .925 winning percentage, passing the .914 of the 1972 Arizona State Sun Devils for the highest single-season winning percentage of all-time and put a cap on an incredible regular season.

So how did the Beavers get here? With perhaps the greatest season in program history.  To this point the Beavers have won 45 games, tying the program record for single-season victories set in 2013. They won 27 conference games, breaking the league record 26 wins Arizona State amassed in 1981. And their .900 winning percentage in conference play; the best since the league expanded to the Pac-10 in 1979.

A quick look at the some of their team stats, and you will continue to be amazed. Oregon State leads the nation in ERA (1.87), shutouts (11), WHIP (.98), WL percentage (.918) and hits allowed per nine innings (6.27). LHP Luke Heimlich leads the nation with a .87 ERA, while RHP Jake Thompson has the nation's third lowest ERA at 1.01.

Put this all together and it’s no wonder the Beavers have been ranked the No.1 team in the country for nine straight weeks. Head coach Pat Casey has said all season that the Beavers only goal was to win the Pac-12. They did that, quite easily, so now it’s time to focus on the road to Omaha and seeing if they can repeat the magic of 2006 and 2007 and bring a championship to Corvallis.

It is obvious that only time will tell if the Beavers will win it all. It is also more than obvious that OSU is the best team in baseball and most certainly the favorite to do so.

The only question remaining is which teams will the Beavers have to get through to book a trip to Nebraska? We will find out on Monday, May 29 when the Division I Baseball Committee unveils its selections for the field of 64.

OSU's Abel taking classes -- and taking it easy -- this summer in Corvallis

OSU's Abel taking classes -- and taking it easy -- this summer in Corvallis

HILLSBORO – The Hillsboro Hops honored Oregon State’s NCAA championship baseball team Monday night and Kevin Abel, the freshman right-hander who hurled a two-hit shutout in the title game, threw out the ceremonial first pitch.

It bounced.

“That’s the first pitch I’ve thrown since the final game,” he said while signing hundreds of autographs with his teammates before and during Monday's game.

Abel is taking the summer off from competition, as is the custom for Oregon State pitchers while Beaver position players scatter around the country to play in various college summer leagues.

“Lift some weights, stay in shape and get a little bit ahead in school,” said Abel, who is taking summer classes in Corvallis.

The Beaver pitcher went the distance in the title game after a relief outing in the team’s previous game. And his coach, Pat Casey, has taken some criticism for using Abel that much.

Abel bristled at the suggestion Casey did anything wrong.

“I just appreciated him giving me the opportunity to do what I did,” Abel said. “I worked all season toward that. I know how to take care of myself. I was fine.”

Abel has done extensive training with Seattle’s Driveline, a sports-science, data-driven training program that is drawing rave reviews from pitchers and hitters, all the way from big-leaguers to Little Leaguers. He is continuing with that program this summer.

“I’ve been doing it since high school,” Abel said. “It’s helped me a lot. I’ve gained velocity and stamina.”

He does not plan to pitch again until fall baseball.

“I’ve been going since school started last year,” he said. “But I feel good."

How has his life changed since that championship game?

"A lot more followers on social media," he said. "My Instagram exploded."

 

A third national title? OSU is a juggernaut bordering on dynasty

A third national title? OSU is a juggernaut bordering on dynasty

OMAHA – After those back-to-back NCAA baseball championships in 2006 and 2007 I suppose it should have been no surprise when Oregon State captured another one Thursday night.

But come on, how could it not be special?

The job the Beavers have done on a national stage since Pat Casey took over the program has been incredible.

Casey has built a machine, one with a foundation made of equal parts talent, belief, recruiting, facilities, hard work and player development.

This is a full-fledged national power, as close to a dynasty as can be built in today’s college athletics.

And I’ve said it from the start, as somebody who played baseball, coached it and has written about it now for more decades than I care to remember:

I’m still not sure how you convince blue-chip players from places like California, Arizona, Nevada and other sun-belt environs to play college baseball in the often cold and wet Pacific Northwest. And even more difficult, how do you talk blue-chip players from the cold and wet Pacific Northwest into staying here for college baseball instead of fleeing to the sunshine?

It’s crazy – a story nobody would believed a couple of decades ago when players from this region dared not even dream of a trip to Omaha for anything but a visit to the city’s renowned zoo.

Some thoughts on what I saw from the Beavers during the championship finals:

  • Truly great teams win even when bad things happen to them. The Beavers didn’t get the pitching from their Big Two they’ve become accustomed to getting. They won anyway. They got some tough calls and bad breaks, too.
  • A big part of Oregon State's success has been preparation. And that means detailed and accurate scouting reports, from what I've heard. Assistant Coach Pat Bailey has been responsible for a lot of those reports and I do know when I congratulated him after the game, he smiled, shook his head and said, "There was a lot of watching video tape."
  • But when presented with the biggest break of all – a foul popup that could have closed the door on them that dropped untouched amid a Bermuda Triangle of Arkansas players – they took the game and the series away from the Pigs.
  • They found a freshman pitcher who worked miracles for them. Kevin Abel was a mystery much of the season – a freshman with great stuff who was unable to harness it. But the coaching staff and his teammates stuck with him and helped him turn into the surprise story of the tournament.
  • All Abel did was pitch the first nine-inning, two-hit shutout in championship game history. And become the first pitcher to ever win four games at the CWS. And all the while doing it on short rest and in the first nine-inning stint of his life.
  • Abel looked like a baby-faced Greg Maddux against the Razorbacks. He lost his curve ball for a few innings and continued to dominate with just his well-placed fastball and devastating change up. And he even managed to get into a Maddux-like rhythm with the home plate umpire that got him a lot of borderline strike calls.
  • Either that or catcher Adley Rutschman was stealing those strikes with his pitch framing.
  • And don’t forget the man calling that bewildering mix of pitches that kept the high-powered  Arkansas offense off balance all night. OSU pitching coach Nate Yeskie called a brilliant game from the dugout. And that’s a big part of it all.
  • And speaking of Rutschman – and who isn’t? – he owned this World Series from both sides of the plate and from behind it. The switch-hitting catcher had an on-base percentage over .500 and batting average over .400. I have every expectation that we’re going to see that Oregon State battery in the big leagues some day.
  • Trevor Larnach was terrific in the clutch in his quiet, unassuming way. What a stroke this kid has.
  • That keystone combination of Cadyn Grenier and Nick Madrigal was so fun to watch. Smart players with great hands are a necessity in the middle of the infield. I wish them luck in their professional careers and I’m not sure we’ll ever see the likes of a combo like that in Corvallis again.
  • That hamstring injury kept Steven Kwan out of most of the championship round but he was one of the best outfielders and lead-off hitters in the country. That his team won without him is testimony to its depth and resolve.'Veterans Michael Gretler and Jack Anderson were rock solid. Winning teams need solid veterans.

I don’t know what else to say about this bunch other than congratulations. Stories like theirs are the reason I got into this crazy business.

And why I’ve stayed in it.

 

Sights and sounds from Omaha

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USA Today

Sights and sounds from Omaha

The Beavers dominated the Razorbacks in Game 3 of the College World Series to win the school's third baseball title on Thursday night. As usual, Twitter was on fire following the victory, just take a look.

Beavers were ready and Abel was able as OSU captures CWS title

Beavers were ready and Abel was able as OSU captures CWS title

OMAHA – A legitimate star was born Thursday night as the Oregon State Beavers captured their third College World Series championship with a 5-0 win over Arkansas.

 

Kevin Abel, a freshman who came of age during post-season play, baffled the Razorbacks with his assortment of pinpoint fastballs, curves and changeups as OSU completed its rally from a 0-1 deficit to capture the best-of-three series by winning the final two games.

 

Abel became the first pitcher ever to win four games at the CWS and held Arkansas to just two hits -- both in the third inning -- over nine shutout innings. He fanned 10 and walked two just 24 hours after throwing an inning of relief against the Hogs Wednesday night. He retired the final 20 batters he faced.

 

It was a spectacular performance by a pitcher who was not a member of the team's weekend starting rotation for most of the season.

 

The Beavers wasted no time getting on the scoreboard. Cadyn Grenier was hit by a pitch with one out in the first and moved to third on Trevor Larnach’s single to right field.

 

Adley Rutschman bounced a single into left to plate Grenier and Larnach scored on an infield error to give OSU a 2-0 lead after just one inning.

 

The Hogs got a leadoff double and a wak in the top o the third, followed by an infield hit to load the bases. But Abel wriggled out of trouble in the meat of the Arkansas order with a strikeout and a line out to right.

 

Rutschman singled to drive in another run in the third, his 16th hit of the CWS . a single-series record. That made the score 3-0 and left runners at first and second with nobody out.

 

But with a chance to break the game open the Beavers left two runners stranded.

 

Rutschman blooped a single into left-center field with one out in the fifth, his 17th CWS hit and Tyler Malone followed with a walk.  With Michael Gretler batting, a wild pitch moved the runners up to second and third.

 

Gretler hit a sacrifice fly to right to hike the lead to 4-0. The Beavers would tack on one more run and Abel would finish the game, handing OSU the College World Series Title. 

 

 

 

 

IN OMAHA: Who will pitch for Beavers tonight? Maybe everybody

IN OMAHA: Who will pitch for Beavers tonight? Maybe everybody

OMAHA -- Oregon State needed to just about empty the bullpen to get all the way to tonight's winner-take-all College World Series game against Arkansas and the obvious question is, "Who will pitch tonight?"

OSU pitching coach Nate Yeskie was asked that question amid the din of the Beaver locker room after Wednesday night's miraculous 5-3 comeback win over the Razorbacks. And while the starting pitcher is important, it hasn't been about the OSU starting pitching here. It's been about the relief corps.

"We're going to let this one sink in a little bit and then we will look at our options before we make a decision," Yeskie said. "Try to look at things objectively. I don't think any one person is going to do it by himself. We haven't been particularly good on the front end but the guys on the back end have picked us up. Particularly the 'gap' guys. We have confidence in all of our guys. They are all capable of getting outs. They can all make pitches."

The Beavers are probably going to have to use a lot of arms to get through the deep Arkansas lineup in the title game. Only the two pitchers -- Brandon Eisert and Bryce Fehmel -- who were used extensively in Game 2 will be spared from bullpen duty, most likely. Head coach Pat Casey was asked which of his pitchers would NOT be available.

"Probably Eisert and probably Fehmel," Casey said. "Fehmel threw 50 pitches, I guess. I don't know. Eisert threw more than that. And if you threw a guy out there that had thrown -- depends on the kid, too. If a kid says, 'Hey, I'm sore, I'm whatever...' I think it's all hands on deck right now for anybody that... I watched the World Series and I see Randy Johnson going down (to the bullpen) after two-day start to close, to win a championship. People do things. Now, we're never going to put someone in a position that is detrimental to them, that's for sure."

There has been some chatter about trying to get a few more innings out of Kevin Abel, the OSU freshman who has already tied a CWS record with three wins. He has been the most effective OSU starter by far. Christian Chamberlain provided terrific pitching in relief during Game 1 and Yeskie said he added more than just what the box score showed.

"He walked some guys and punched out some guys," Yeskie said. "But he also gave us some insight on how we'd like to attack certain hitters. But at the end of the day, you've got to make pitches."

The Beavers got to the championship game in one of the most dramatic finishes I've seen in many decades of watching and covering baseball -- and just about every other sport.

Down to the last out and to the last strike --- and to gain new life from a pop fly that dropped untouched but should have been caught to end the game and the season -- and come back to win? Well, when it happened, Jack Buck's excited voice rattled around in my head so forcefully that I spoke it out loud in the same stunned manner the legendary sportscaster used when describing Kirk Gibson's game-winning homer in the World Series off Dennis Eckersley in 1988:

"...And I don't believe... what I just saw!" ... And the man sitting beside me quickly added another famous Buck line, "... And we'll see you tomorrow!"

Yes, the Beavers got a huge break when that popup fell harmlessly to the ground. But the point is, they took advantage of it. They got that two-out, two-strike single from Cadyn Grenier. They got that laser-beam home run from Trevor Larnach. They got that save from Jake Mulholland.

And they lived to play another day.

I can't wait.

 

 

Arkansas wins College World Series, except, they didn’t

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USA Today

Arkansas wins College World Series, except, they didn’t

The Arkansas Razorbacks beat the Oregon State Beavers in Game 2 to win the 2018 College World Series… in some alternate universe.

Twitter was on fire on Tuesday night when ESPN changed their webpage to congratulate the Razorbacks. The only problem - the game wasn't over yet.

At the time it was the top of the ninth inning and Arkansas had a 3-2 lead. However, in true Beavers fashion, Cadyn Grenier would hit a single to tie the ballgame with two outs and Trevor Larnach would follow him with a two-run shot to right field to give the Beavers the 5-3 lead.

The Beavers pulled off the miracle win to force a winner-take-all game on Wednesday. 

In baseball terms, if ESPN's homepage were a pitch it would be "just a bit outside"

Beavers pull off a miracle finish to stay alive at CWS

Beavers pull off a miracle finish to stay alive at CWS

OMAHA –  Oregon State, barely breathing and down to its last strike, finally got a break Tuesday night. And it was a monster one that led to the Beavers pulling out  5-3 win to stay alive in its College World Series quest for a national championship.

Cadyn Grenier, with two outs and the tying run at third base in the top of the ninth inning, hit a foul popup down the right field line. How many Razorbacks does it take to catch a foul popup with a national championshp on the line?

Well, at least four, I guess. The ball fell untouched and Grenier lashed a two-out, two-strike single into left field to tie a game that appeared lost.

The next batter, Trevor Larnach, boomed a line-drive, two-run homer into the right-field bullpen to give the Beavers a 5-3 lead.

Freshman Kevin Able, who struck out the side in the eighth in relief, allowed a leadoff single in the bottom of the ninth and gave way to Jake Mulholland. He finished it up with a strikeout and a double play.

BOOM -- series tied heading into a winner-take-all contest Thursday night.

It looked all evening as if Oregon State was just going to squander every chance it had to score. The Beavers had managed a total of only three runs in two games and Wednesday night was on its way to dropping its second straight game, and the College World Series, to the Arkansas Razorbacks – this time by a score of 3-2.

The Beavers squandered opportunities, including a bases-loaded situation with the heart of the order at the plate, a botched squeeze-play attempt and a runner at third with one out.

Oregon State got the lead-off man on in the eighth on Adley Rutschman’s single, sacrificed him to second and he moved to third on a passed ball but Arkansas lefty Matt Cronin came out of the bullpen to whiff Tyler Malone, who battled through an eight-pitch at bat. He then disposed of pinch-hitting Steven Kwan on a fly ball to left field to end the inning.

Then in the ninth, Zak Taylor worked Cronin for a walk on a 3-2 pitch and gave way to pinch-runner Zack Clayton. Andy Armstrong bunted him to second for Nick Madrigal -- the Beavers No. 4 pick in the recent MLB draft. Best spot for the best hitter, right? Madrigal grounded weakly to first for the second out of the inning and Cadyn Grenier hit a popup in foul territory that dropped untouched between three players.

New life, right? Well, YES -- and you know the rest of the story.

The Hogs got on the scoreboard with a run in the second inning on a single, hit batter and two walks, the latter with the bases loaded.

The Beavers had hit the ball hard in the first inning. Nick Madrigal and Cadyn Grenier flew out deep to straightaway center field and then Trevor Larnach and Rutschman belted line-drive singles. But Michael Gretler struck out to end the inning.

OSU starter Bryce Fehmel walked the lead-off batter in the third and was removed in favor of Brandon Eisert, who struck out the side in that inning and pitched very well through the seventh,

Rutschman got the Beavers even in the top of the fourth when he lined a 1-0 pitch into the Arkansas bullpen for a solo home run.

In the top of the fifth, Zak Taylor grounded a single into left field and Preston Jones, starting in place of injured Steven Kwan, to set the Beavers up with runners at first and second with one out.

That was the end of Razorback starter Kacey Murphy, who gave way to right-hander Jake Reindl.

Madrigal worked him for a four-pitch walk to load the bases for Grenier, who bunted for a base hit to drove in the go-ahead run.

With the bases still loaded, Larnach took a first-pitch ball before another pitching change brought in right-hander Kole Ramage from the Hog bullpen.

Larnach then struck out to bring Rutschman to the plate.

The Beaver catcher rolled an easy grounder to first to end the inning and OSU got only one run out of the inning. At that point, they’d outhit Arkansas 7-1 and led only 2-1.

And Oregon State fell victim to some bad luck in the bottom of that inning as two bloops fell in front of Beaver outfielders, leading to the game’s tying run.

Carson Shaddy then smacked a two-out single into left field and the Razorbacks had the lead back.

In the sixth, the Beavers had runners at the corners with none out but chose to squeeze again – but pinch-hitter Jack Anderson popped the bunt into a double-play and OSU went scoreless in the frame.

 

 

A bewildering interference call hurt the Beavers

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USATI

A bewildering interference call hurt the Beavers

OMAHA – At the center of Oregon State’s 4-1 College World Series loss to Arkansas Tuesday night, there was a very strange, game-turning call in the bottom of the fourth inning that left OSU coaches and players befuddled.

As well they should have been.

The Beavers had Trevor Larnach at third and Adley Rutschman at first with nobody out when Tyler Malone scorched a hot one-hopper at Arkansas first baseman Jared Gates. Gates made a fine play on the ball and threw to second to try to start a double play.

He got Rutschman at second but there was no chance to get Malone at first, with Larnach trotting across the plate to give Oregon State a 2-0 lead.

But hold on – second base umpire Chris Coskey called interference on Rutschman, ruling not only him out but Malone, too. And on interference, the rule is Larnach had to return to third. It was almost like giving the 'Backs a triple play.

The Beavers didn’t end up scoring in the inning.

An argument ensued and OSU Coach Pat Casey was told by Coskey that Rutschman made contact with the infielder at second.

Except he didn’t. Replay showed no contact.

“He (Caskey) said he made contact with him and (Rutschman) wasn’t anywhere near him,” Casey said afterward. “All he was trying to do was duck and get out of the way. There were a couple of feet of separation.”

It was a ridiculous call made worse by the Razorbacks storming back for four runs in the top of the next inning.

Asked if the call was a gut punch to his team, Casey said, “You’re ahead 2-0 with a guy at first base. Pretty good momentum swing.

“(But) We had opportunities later in the game and didn’t take advantage of them.”

They had another chance later when Cadyn Grenier’s liner down the right-field line with Steven Kwan on first was originally called foul, only to be reversed on replay.

The umpires had no choice but to place the base runners where they thought they would be on a fair ball.

They put Kwan at third and Grenier on first. Grenier insisted later that he had an easy double on the ball and Kwan said, “I truly believe I would have scored on it.”

But that didn’t go OSU’s way either as Nick Madrigal lined out to end the inning.

On the other hand, the Beavers had plenty of blame to take for themselves.

“The key to the game is we put 10 runners on base,” Casey said  We walked seven guys and hit three. Pretty tough to win a game when you put 10 runners on base.”

 

 

Some sights and sounds from the College World Series

Some sights and sounds from the College World Series

OMAHA – A few of the sights and sounds from the College World Series…

  • TD Ameritrade Park, the CWS venue, is a beautiful downtown minor-league ballpark. But no minor-league team plays in it. The Triple-A Omaha Storm Chasers have their own 9,100-seat venue called Werner Park outside of town. TD Ameritrade is the home park for the CWS and Creighton Blue Jays and seats 24,000. See how important the CWS is to Omaha?
  • TD Ameritrade was a sea of red Monday night as fans got ready for the game that was eventually postponed between Arkansas and Oregon State. With just a six-hour drive to Omaha, the Razorbacks are going to make this series look like a homestand.
  • And make no mistake, the Arkansas fans are proud to be pigs. That “Sooey Pig” thing can be heard wherever a group of three or four of their fans are hanging out.
  • That doesn’t mean the Beavers don’t have a large contingent of fans on hand, too. Oregon State baseball fans travel well.
  • The area around the ballpark in downtown Omaha is alive. And busy. This town goes out of its way to be supportive of the event and the people who attend it. The hospitality is generous and genuine.
  • Oregon State will be the home team in Game 1 of the series and also Game 3, if necessary.
  • On the lineup card OSU Coach Pat Casey turned in for the postponed game Monday, he had Steven Kwan playing center field and batting leadoff and Luke Heimlich listed as the starting pitcher. Kwan is apparently recovered from a hamstring tweak and Heimlich ready for his third start in the CWS. There is no reason to doubt it will be the same lineup Tuesday night.
  • The weather forecast for Omaha looks fine through Wednesday but showing possible thunderstorms again Thursday. I’m thinking there are some messed up trip itineraries already for OSU fans because of Monday’s rainout.