Beavs on to Omaha
By: Grant Lucas
CORVALLIS — Bursts of fireworks echoed throughout Goss Stadium late Monday night, joining the roaring chants already consuming the cool, crisp Willamette Valley air:
“O-ma-ha! O-ma-ha! O-ma-ha!”
The Beavers are heading back to the College World Series.
Oregon State survived several late scares by Kansas State with clutch pitching and flawless defense, defeating the Wildcats 4-3 in the do-or-die third game of the NCAA baseball Corvallis Super Regional and reaching the CWS for the first time since winning its second straight national championship in 2007.
“We were in the locker room at LSU last year (after losing in the Baton Rouge Regional),” Oregon State coach Pat Casey recalled, “and I looked at our club and said, ‘I don’t know when, but this team’s going to the College World Series.'”
The answer came sooner rather than later.
Oregon State, playing as the visiting team, clung to a 4-3 lead heading into the bottom of the ninth inning, and suddenly, visions of Saturday’s Game 1 — when Kansas State evened the score in the ninth en route to a 10-inning win — appeared.
This time, however, the Beavers held their ground.
“We didn’t let ourselves let our guard down,” OSU outfielder Michael Conforto said. “To beat a team like that, that fights to the very end — look at Saturday, down to their last strike and they come back and beat us.”
Despite the Wildcats putting the tying run on first base with a single in their half of the ninth inning, Oregon State’s Matt Boyd, two days after throwing 123 pitches in the series opener and in relief of starter Ben Wetzler, induced a fly ball and a pop fly in foul territory to clamp down on K-State’s last-ditch effort and send the Beavers to Omaha.
Danny Hayes homered and drove in two runs to lead the Beavers (50-11), Kavin Keyes logged a double and an RBI, and Wetzler put in a courageous outing — 7 2/3 innings pitched, five strikeouts, three earned runs, all while staring down rally threats by Kansas State from the sixth inning on.
“They pitched great,” Kansas State coach Brad Hill said. “Their starting pitching just really held us down.”
For the Wildcats (45-19), Blair DeBord led the way with a 2-for-4 performance and two RBIs, while Jared King knocked in a run and R.J. Santigate went 3-for-4.
Kansas State had multiple opportunities to shift the tide — the Wildcats stranded nine base runners — but Oregon State’s defense came up strong, making one crucial play after another. From inning-ending double plays to left fielder Conforto gunning down the potential game-tying run at the plate in the eighth inning, the Beavers came through.
“I trust them every day,” Wetzler said of his teammates. “They make plays every day. … We preach pitching and defense and timely hitting. That’s Oregon State’s MO.”
Hayes drove a two-strike pitch over the 2007 national championship sign in center field for a two-run homer — the Beavers’ fourth home run in the three-game series — that gave Oregon State a 2-0 advantage in the top of the second inning.
In the fourth, Keyes ripped a full-count offering off the right-field wall for a double, scoring Ryan Barnes, and a Kansas State error in the fifth allowed Jake Rodriguez to come across, upping the Beavers’ lead to 4-0.
Kansas State opened the bottom of the sixth with back-to-back singles with No. 3 hitter Shane Conlon coming up. Wetzler induced a ground ball to second baseman Andy Peterson, who tagged out the base runner heading to second and threw on to first base to complete the double play.
Jared King brought the lead runner in with a single soon after, but the Wildcats’ potential threat was averted as the Beavers escaped the inning with a three-run lead intact.
K-State began the seventh in similar fashion, with consecutive singles putting runners on first and second with nobody out. Wetzler, however, trusted his defense. A slow chopper back to the mound allowed Wetzler to get the lead runner at third base. The next Wildcat batter grounded to shortstop Smith, who fired to third base to record the out. Then, with the capacity crowd at Goss roaring, Wetzler induced a third straight ground ball, this one to Smith, who threw on to first base to once again cut short a Wildcat rally.
When in the eighth inning it appeared K-State would fall short of yet another scoring opportunity, Blair DeBord stepped up and laced a two-run double down the left-field line with two outs to bring the Wildcats within a run at 4-3.
R.J. Santigate, the ensuing batter, poked a single to left field. Conforto dove for the ball but did not catch it cleanly. Conforto immediately hopped to his feet and threw out DeBord trying to score the game-tying run, ending the inning.
“Great composure,” Hill said of Conforto’s play. “Great composure. Threw a strike right to home plate.”
For the fifth time ever and the fourth time under Casey, Oregon State heads to Omaha. The Beavers will be searching for a third national championship, and it all starts with a matchup against Mississippi State at noon PST on Saturday.
“They’re taking me,” Casey said. “I’ve been there before, so maybe that helps the players that haven’t been there. But they’re taking me.”