Oregon State Bests North Carolina In CWS Thriller
OMAHA, Neb.—Another classic.
That much was to be expected. It seems any time Oregon State and North Carolina lock horns in the College World Series this happens. Leads are as fickle as the Omaha weather, no inning is easy, every breath strained. Much like in 2006 and 2007, when the Beavers and Tar Heels met in the CWS finals, this year’s College World Series rematch provided a thrill a second.
UNC won the first bout, in the Series’ opening game on Saturday, outlasting Oregon State in the longest nine-inning game in College World Series history.
The Beavers responded Wednesday by sending the Tar Heels home, trading leads back and forth until, finally, the Beavers erupted for eight runs between the final two frames, winning 11-6 and extending their postseason by at least one more game.
“Our club represented everything that I ask teams to be,” Oregon State coach Pat Casey said after the win. “They were resilient. They were tough. They fought. They scrapped. Everything—put up with my emotions. And I ask guys all the time just be as competitive as you can possibly be and I'll live with that, and they were.
“So I gotta tell you, it was a great comeback and they stayed with it. Very, very proud of them.”
There’s a talent disparity between the Beavers and the Tar Heels—as there is between the Beavers and most teams. This Oregon State squad produced three Day 1 MLB draft picks, with second baseman Nick Madrigal going fourth overall. Sophomore catcher Adley Rutschman—who tied the game at 6-6 with a booming, bases-clearing, three-run double in the eighth inning—is a first-round lock for next June and could be in the conversation for the first overall pick.
The Tar Heels, in contrast, didn’t see a player come off the draft board until the Yankees drafted junior righthander Rodney Hutchison in the sixth round. But what’s made the Tar Heels so effective, especially down the final stretch of the season, is their unshakeable confidence at the plate and their overwhelming belief in themselves. Head coach Mike Fox has said on more than one occasion this postseason that this team is among the most special groups—on a purely personal level—he’s ever coached.
Their tenacity was on display for the entire country Wednesday, as the Tar Heels found a way to overcome an early 3-0 deficit and knock out one of the country’s best pitchers, lefthander Luke Heimlich, in the third inning. Junior Brandon Riley dealt the decisive blow, slicing a pitch that somehow curved just fair over the first-base bag and driving in two runs to tie the game at three apiece.
Three innings later, sophomore catcher Brandon Martorano tripled to lead off the frame, and third baseman Kyle Datres atoned for a costly error he made the day before by hitting a wall-scraper home run to left field, pushing the Tar Heel lead to 6-3.
All the while, freshman lefty Caden O’Brien threw the outing of his life in relief of starter Cooper Criswell, blanking one of the country’s most potent lineups from the third inning until he was pulled with a runner on in the eighth.
Those seven frames were indicative of the exact quality Fox likes about his team—making the ending all the more devastating.
“Well, the end of the season, it stinks,” Fox said in the post-game press conference, as Datres and senior Zack Gahagan struggled to hold back tears in the seats to his left. “And it's especially hard when you have really such a great group of kids. Probably not one of our most talented teams that we've had at UNC, but perhaps our most unselfish, toughest, grittiest just determined to get here.”
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But the Beavers are known for that same grit and that same mental fortitude, seemingly igniting their powerful offense at will whenever needed. That was yet again the case in the eighth inning, as UNC relievers Joey Lancellotti and Brett Daniels struggled with their location. Lancellotti allowed a single, threw a wild pitch and a passed ball and loaded the bases with a walk. Daniels struck out leading home run hitter Trevor Larnach with a filthy 83 mph changeup but wasn’t able to put away Rutschman. A bases-loaded walk gave the Beavers a 7-6 lead.
The Tar Heels had stifled Oregon State for seven innings, but the Beavers can only be held down for so long.
“We felt like the pressure was never on us,” Madrigal said. “For some reason it was always on them. Even if we were down by one run, we just made a decision we're going to win this game. And that's the way it's been all year long.
“And until that final out happens, we feel like we're never out of the game, and that's the way Oregon State baseball is. You've got to make the last out against us. We're going to fight until the end.”
In the ninth, as a Corvallis-like mist descended from the sky, the Beavers turned what was once a close game into a comfortable five-run win. This is what the Beavers do; it’s what led them to a 56-6 season a year ago, and it’s what’s pushed them to a semifinals matchup against Mississippi State.
They couldn’t have looked more at home in the precipitation.
“When it's raining like that, it's just like we're back in Oregon,” shortstop Cadyn Grenier said.
“When the rain comes, we know there's a possibility of a storm coming—and that's from us. And that's what we saw tonight."