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End Of An Era For Oregon State After Regionals Loss

With a 4-1 loss to Creighton on Saturday, Oregon State, the defending national champion and No. 16 overall seed, was eliminated from its home regional after an 0-2 showing.

It has been clear for some time that the 2019 Beavers were not as good as the 2017-18 version, which last year won the national title and the year before went 56-6 and reached the College World Series final four.

To expect that to continue was unrealistic. Shortstop Cadyn Grenier, outfielder Trevor Larnach and second baseman Nick Madrigal were all last year drafted in the top 40 picks, not to mention the loss of veterans such as Michael Gretler and Steven Kwan. And adding to the turnover, coach Pat Casey, the program’s architect, retired in September, with Pat Bailey, his associate head coach, promoted to interim head coach.

But, to the Beavers’ credit, for much of the season, the results didn’t look much different despite the turnover.

Oregon State dominated a four-game series with Nebraska the second week of the season, won a series with West Virginia, which went on to be the No. 15 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, the following weekend, and went into the penultimate week of the regular season tied with Stanford and UCLA atop the Pac-12 standings.

But at the worst time of year, the cracks showed.

The overall pitching numbers were outstanding this season, and the Beavers entered the NCAA Tournament ranked second in the country in team ERA (2.98). Digging a little deeper, though, you notice that it was the bullpen that was dominant, with the starting rotation a little more hit and miss.

Simply put, Oregon State lacked an ace. Righthander Kevin Abel had been expected to take on that role, but losing him in March for the season to Tommy John surgery proved to be a devastating setback.

On Friday, you saw that deficiency come back to bite Oregon State, as Cincinnati got to veteran righthander Bryce Fehmel for four runs on nine hits in five innings, putting the Beavers behind the eight ball. They fought back against the Bearcats bullpen to take a 6-5 lead, but didn’t hold it and ended up losing the game, 7-6.

It’s an inexact science to predict results based on certain inputs being different, but it’s not difficult to imagine a couple of early zeroes making a huge difference in that game and maybe changing the outcome.

The offense was the most glaring issue this season, however. Outside of catcher Adley Rutschman, the Oregon State lineup was fairly pedestrian, and Bailey spent much of the campaign mixing and matching to find the right combination.

Rutschman was the only player to appear in all 57 games this season. Only two other OSU players appeared in 50 or more games, and no other player started more than 44 games. 

And over the last couple of weeks in particular, the offense was just stuck in neutral. The Beavers were shut out twice in a series loss to Southern California during the last weekend of the season, and the six runs scored against Cincinnati were their most since May 11 (eight).

The loss to Creighton on Saturday was just the latest, and most painful, example.

Bluejays righthander Evan Johnson walked five batters and allowed three hits in 5.1 innings, but he deftly worked around trouble all game long to limit Oregon State to just one run. Multi-slot Righthander John Sakowski came on in relief of Johnson and that was all she wrote, as he threw 3.2 scoreless innings on just one hit and one walk.

With the loss, Oregon State is the first host team eliminated from the field, and it marks the first time since 1985 that it has come away from a postseason appearance winless.

Now, it will go into an offseason of transition.

The coaching position is a question mark. When he retired, Casey moved to the position of special assistant to athletic director Scott Barnes. But Barnes put an unusual clause into Casey’s new contract, which allows him the opportunity this June to decide to return to the dugout as head coach. He has made no indication yet whether he intends to resume his coaching career.

Rutschman is certain to join his former teammates in pro ball, likely as the first overall pick in next week’s draft. Fehmel will graduate and hard-throwing righthander Grant Gambrell is also likely to be drafted in the first three rounds.

Saturday’s loss represents the end of an era for Oregon State. An uncertain offseason awaits in Corvallis, after this weekend’s 0-2 exit a shocking end.


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