OMAHA–North Carolina and Oregon State picked up Saturday night right where they left off a year ago.
Just as in Game Three of the 2006 College World Series championship series, the team that played sounder defense and came up with more timely hitting was the team that won the first game of the 2007 CWS finals. Just like a year ago, that team was wearing white and orange.
Oregon State broke open a close game with eight runs over the final four innings en route to an 11-4 win over UNC in front of 26,887 fans, the largest crowd ever for a CWS finals game.
“We were beaten by a much better team tonight,” North Carolina coach Mike Fox said. “That’s all I’ve got to say. Every phase of the game they did a lot better than we did. I thought their hitters looked a lot more locked in–especially early in the game–than ours did. I think that’s probably pretty typical of how Oregon State’s won a lot of games.”
The Beavers took a 2-0 lead in the second inning on a two-run homer into the teeth of a stiff wind by first baseman Jordan Lennerton (pictured at right), and they never looked back. The Beavers have made a habit of jumping on the opposition early and often during their recent Omaha success–they have not trailed in their last 50 CWS innings dating back to last year, tied for the second-longest streak in CWS history.
On Saturday, they added single runs in the third and fifth innings and tacked on two more in the sixth before breaking the game open in the seventh. OSU scored four runs in the frame without the benefit of a hit, as back-to-back throwing errors by UNC reliever Tyler Trice opened the floodgates.
That was more than enough support for Oregon State freshman righthander Jorge Reyes (7-3), who won his second straight CWS start by limiting the Tar Heels to three runs on eight hits over 6 1/3 innings. Lefthander Joe Paterson picked up the save by holding UNC to a run over the final 2 2/3. He struck out Josh Horton (who whiffed three times in the game for the first time in his three-year career) with runners on first and second to curtail a UNC rally in the top of the seventh before the Beavers broke it open in the bottom of the inning. But Reyes was the bigger story, showing poise beyond his years.
“We got a tremendous start out of Jorge Reyes, a freshman out there,” OSU coach Pat Casey said. “I thought when Lenny hit the ball out, it kind of took a little pressure off him, but he was lights out, and we defended for him.”
The Beavers also continued their recent torrid offensive pace, as they became the first team since Cal State Fullerton in 1995 to win three consecutive CWS games by six runs or more. They kept the pressure on UNC freshman righty Alex White (6-7) by moving the ball around the field and finding holes, especially with two outs. White lasted longer than in his last Omaha start against Rice, but he was charged with five runs on eight hits over 5 1/3 innings.
“For a club like us, we build off of chemistry, and it just takes a spark to get something going. We truly feel like if we get someone on base, we’re going to be better hitters,” Oregon State shortstop Darwin Barney said. “If we get a hit, it makes the next guy more confident. That’s just baseball, that’s how it goes. Our team really feeds off each other.”
North Carolina, meanwhile, struggled to get timely hitting, going 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position. In Game Three of the 2006 finals, the Tar Heels were just 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position. Fox has hammered home the point that this is not the same UNC team as a year ago, and he’s right, but it’s still natural to wonder if the Tar Heels were tightening up in RBI opportunities. But a feisty Fox bristled when asked if that was the case Saturday.
“Our guys aren’t tight,” Fox said. “You’ve got to tip your hat to the other team. You’ve got to tip your hat to the other team. We were not tight, we haven’t been tight since we’ve been out here. You have to tip your hat to the other guy–he throws strike one, strike two, he makes good pitches, and good pitching is going to beat good hitting. And he was good tonight. That’s the bottom line. And we’re not going to make excuses, our guys have no reason to be tight. Why would you be tight playing for the national championship? There’s no reason to be. I’ll be shocked if our guys were.”
Maybe the Tar Heels have the Beavers right where they want them. After all, a year ago, the tables were turned–UNC went 3-0 in its bracket and won the first game of the championship series, while Oregon State had to run through the loser’s bracket and then win two straight games against UNC. And these Tar Heels seem to play well with their backs against the wall–they’ve won four straight elimination games. But the bottom line is North Carolina simply needs to play better in all facets to prolong its season in Game Two on Sunday night.
“Every loss we’ve been able to come back and play better the next game,” Fox said. “They’re very good, and they’re playing very well, so we’re going to have to play well. But tomorrow’s a new day, and we’ll start over.”
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