For one Beaver, a return trip to Omaha

Michael Conforto

By: Grant Lucas
The Bulletin

In the stands at the old Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, Neb., on June 24, 2007 was a 14-year-old Michael Conforto. In the area with his traveling tournament youth team, the future slugger from Woodinville, Wash., had no idea then where he would one day play baseball at the college level.

But now, a vision of what happened that day — Oregon State winning its second straight College World Series — sticks with Conforto.

This weekend, Conforto will lead the Beavers back to Omaha, to the CWS, where OSU has not been in six years.

“I think we’ve got the full package if we do all the things right,” Conforto said soon after the Corvallis Super Regional victory on Monday night. “It means a lot to me. It means everything to me right now, to be able to get to experience this with all the guys, all the coaches and Beaver Nation.”

The Beavers this week return to Omaha for the first time since winning that title in 2007 and for the fourth time in nine years.

Behind stout pitching and a CWS veteran coach in Pat Casey, Oregon State will vie for its third national championship, and it begins with a Saturday matchup against Mississippi State (first pitch set for noon PDT).

How OSU got there

Oregon State opened up the 2013 campaign with 15 straight wins and later ran off 12 in a row en route to a regular-season record of 45-10. The Beavers locked down the No. 3 national seed to host the four-team Corvallis Regional, where they swept their way to the championship.

Last week, against one of the most potent hitting teams in the nation, Oregon State clawed back after dropping the first game of the Corvallis Super Regional against Kansas State, bashing its way to a 12-4 win in Game 2 before squeaking out a 4-3 victory in the rubber game.

Staff of aces

The Beavers head into the program’s fifth CWS with one of the most impressive pitching staffs in the nation. Their 2.27 earned-run average ranks second in Division I and is the lowest in the eight-team CWS field.

Led by freshman right-hander and All-American Andrew Moore, as well as left-handers Ben Wetzler and Matt Boyd (who were selected in the fifth and sixth rounds, respectively, in last week’s Major League Baseball draft), Oregon State hurlers have limited opponents this season to a paltry .213 batting average.

Moore (NCAA top-10 1.36 ERA) leads the nation with 14 wins, which also ties the 20-year-old school record for single-season victories; both he and Wetzler have won their past nine straight decisions. Combined, the Moore-Wetzler-Boyd trio boasts a record of 33-5, making the Beavers’ starting rotation arguably the best in the nation.

Break out the bats

Pitching attracts most of the attention at Oregon State, and for good reason. As Casey said after the Corvallis Super Regional, games are won with strong pitching and solid defense.

He added: “The offense just determines how much you win it by.” And the OSU offense has provided some pop.

Five Beavers are hitting .300 or better heading into the CWS, led by Dylan Davis (.343), who also ranks in the top 20 nationwide with 22 doubles. Another of Oregon State’s big sticks is Conforto, the Pac-12 Conference player of the year and a .320 hitter with 11 home runs — two of which came against Kansas State.

Compared with the CWS field, Oregon State ranks second in slugging percentage this postseason (.425) as well as in postseason hits (67) and home runs (five). The Beavers have scored three or more runs in 52 games this season, winning 47 of those games, and are 37-5 when scoring first. Finally, in OSU’s 61 games this season, the Beavers have outhit opponents 44 times. Their record in those contests: 40-4.

History at CWS

In 2005, Oregon State began a three-year run of playing in Omaha, winning back-to-back titles in 2006-07. At the forefront of it all was Casey, who has guided the Beavers to an 11-4 record at the CWS, including a string of 11 wins in Oregon State’s last 12 games in Omaha.

The Beavers’ trip this year is reminiscent of 2007. That season, after winning it all, OSU finished with 49 wins — one short of the school record. In 2013, Oregon State will take the field at TD Ameritrade Park with 50 victories already in hand.

In 2007, Beaver pitchers posted a 2.57 ERA during the postseason (including regional and Super Regional play), with opponents hitting just .210 over 112 innings. This year, the OSU pitching staff owns a 2.74 ERA in the postseason while holding opponents to a .238 batting average.

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