Beavers fall in series opener
By: Grant Lucas
CORVALLIS — Oregon State had the lead and the strength of recent history on its side.
The Beavers had won 14 of their past 15 games at Goss Stadium, and on Saturday, they were one strike away from yet another home win and gaining an early edge in the NCAA baseball Super Regionals against Kansas State.
But the Wildcats stood tall, and after being held to just six hits through eight innings, the Big 12 Conference champions came alive.
Facing two strikes with two outs in the top of the ninth inning, Kansas State junior Ross Kivett delivered a double to right-center field and advanced to third base when right fielder Dylan Davis fumbled the ball while trying to pick it up.
Two pitches later, Tanner Witt drove in the tying run, silencing the record Goss crowd of 3,574.
In the 10th inning, the Wildcats completed the comeback, exploding for four runs on five hits to jump in front 6-2. Jake Matthys then shut down the Beavers (48-11 overall) in the bottom half of the inning to seal the victory in the first game of the best-of-three series.
Game 2 is set for tonight at 7 o’clock. A third game — which the Beavers hope will be necessary — would be played Monday starting at 4 p.m.
“We certainly had many opportunities early in the game, or throughout the game,” Oregon State coach Pat Casey said. “I thought that we wouldn’t have to go to extra innings. It’s tough when you get down to the last strike and you don’t get it done.”
A two-run home run by the Pac-12 player of the year, OSU sophomore Michael Conforto, was the difference for much of the game. But Oregon State could not pull away, and Kansas State made the Beavers pay.
“We didn’t do some things tonight that we needed to do,” Casey said. “We did some things that we shouldn’t have done. We had a chance to win the game even in spite of that. We just weren’t able to finish.”
OSU starting pitcher Matt Boyd lasted seven innings, scattering five hits and striking out three while allowing just one run — a performance Casey said was good enough for a victory. He threw 123 pitches and was in line for his 11th win of the season. The Beavers were one strike away from giving it to him, but it would not come.
“This is a team game,” Boyd said of the frustration of not getting the win despite a strong pitching effort. “That’s about it.”
Conforto finished 1-for-4 with the two-run homer. Tyler Smith added a 2-for-4 performance for Oregon State, and Andy Peterson, Ryan Barnes, Kavin Keyes and Jake Rodriguez each picked up a single.
For Kansas State (45-17), which is in its first Super Regional in school history, it was Witt leading the way, going 3-for-6 with three RBIs. Jon Davis singled and drove in two runs, and Kivett and Jared King finished with two hits apiece.
“Obviously, I think Boyd was really tough on us today,” Wildcat coach Brad Hill said. “We looked really tight, confused. We just didn’t get any good swings off him at all.”
Hill mentioned that, while it was difficult to get to Boyd early, his team’s fight wore the starter down.
“I think of R.J. Santigate … Austin Fisher … just fouling pitch after pitch off,” Hill said. “Those were the at-bats that wear you down. If we are up there not competing very hard, he (Boyd) cruises through nine innings today in 120 pitches.”
Peterson led off the OSU half of the fourth inning with a single up the middle, setting the table for Conforto. After finding himself in a quick two-strike hole against Wildcat starter Joe Flattery, Conforto teed off on a fastball and sent a drive that towered over the right-field wall, cleared the bleachers and landed in the middle of Washington Way.
Kansas State put runners on first and third with back-to-back hits in the top of the fifth, but Boyd rebounded, inducing consecutive infield pop-ups. Two straight hit batters — both with two-strike counts — scored a run to bring the Wildcats to within one, but Boyd got Blair DeBord on a ground ball to end the inning.
King opened the top of the 10th with a looping hit to shallow left field. Conforto lost the ball in the sun and it dropped between him and the shortstop Smith, and King hustled it into a double. Two batters later, Davis drove a 1-1 pitch back up the middle, scoring King and giving Kansas State its first lead of the game. The Wildcats would add three more runs to put themselves one win away from their first-ever trip to the College World Series.
The Beavers’ backs are now against the wall, facing elimination on their home field. But coming back after dropping the first game, Conforto pointed out, is nothing new to Oregon State.
“We take it like we always have,” Conforto said. “We’ve done this before. … We’ve been in this position before. Maybe the stakes are higher, but I really think this team, in front of our fans, I think we will respond the way we know we can.”