OMAHA–Darwin Barney emerged from the gaggle of Oregon State players draped in white “National Champions” T-shirts, took a few steps toward home plate, then wheeled around and yelled, “Mitch! Mitch! Let’s go!”
A moment later, Mitch Canham forced his way through the throng. Barney put his left arm around Canham’s shoulders, and the duo approached the makeshift platform set up near the plate. Together the two juniors hoisted the massive national championship trophy over their heads and posed for pictures. Then they turned to their teammates, calling, “Hey everybody, get in here!”
It wasn’t the first time Barney and Canham have led their teammates during the past three years, but it might be the last. The pair put the finishing touches on one of the great three-year runs in college baseball history on Sunday night, leading the Beavers to a 9-3 win against North Carolina and their second consecutive national title, capping off their third straight trip to the College World Series. Appropriately, Barney’s two-run homer in the second inning–with Canham on first base–gave Oregon State the lead for good.
But on Sunday night, Barney (pictured at right) and Canham weren’t thinking about the last three years. They were thinking about the 2007 Beavers, whose improbable run through the postseason made them the first team ever to finish with a sub-.500 record in its conference and go on to win the national title.
“All I can think about right now is what just happened between those lines,” Barney said. “The men that we brought together and that I’ve been with since September, that’s what’s most special to me right now. The past three years of my career, it’s been fun, but right now it’s all about the team, and it’s about every single one of these guys contributing today. Even the guys that didn’t get into the game, they’re right there on the top step feeding us in as we come in from the field.”
That team-first attitude has defined the Beavers during their remarkable run, and they proved to be the best, most complete team in the nation by simply dominating the 2007 College World Series. Oregon State won its final 10 games in the postseason and became the first team ever to win four consecutive CWS games by six or more runs.
“What an unbelievable accomplishment that is to win back-to-back national championships,” North Carolina coach Mike Fox said. “I’m not sure–you can’t ever say never–but I’m not sure that’s going to be done here too many times at this level, as many good teams are there are here at this level.”
North Carolina actually grabbed a 1-0 lead in the first inning, the first time OSU had trailed in its last 61 innings. But Oregon State starter Mike Stutes (12-4) minimized the damage by getting Seth Williams to fly out to center with runners on the corners. Stutes–who also started Game Two of the CWS finals a year ago, when he allowed four runs over three innings–settled down after that, holding the Tar Heels to three runs on seven hits over 5 1/3 innings.
Oregon State seemed energized after escaping the rocky UNC first inning with just one run on the board, and Barney’s two-run homer to left keyed a three-run inning that chased North Carolina starter Luke Putkonen (8-2). Closer Andrew Carignan replaced Putkonen and kept the Tar Heels in the game by allowing two runs over 3 2/3 innings, as the two teams traded solitary runs in the third and the fifth. But UNC had no answer for Oregon State’s two-run seventh and ninth innings. The Beavers got much of their production from the No. 6 and No. 7 spots in the lineup, where outfielders John Wallace and Scott Santschi combined to go 6-for-7 with three runs and three RBIs.
The Tar Heels, on the other hand, continued to struggle with men on base. They had plenty of chances Sunday, but they were just 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position. In two the two CWS finals losses, UNC was 2-for-20 with men in scoring position. UNC appeared to have something going in the seventh, when Seth Williams doubled down the left-field line with one out and Tim Fedroff on first base. But Fox waved Fedroff around third, and Barney made a perfect relay throw to Canham, who blocked the plate and tagged Fedroff out to take the wind out of UNC’s sails.
“That might have been the first extra-base hit we’ve had with somebody on base, so I guess I got caught up in trying to score a run there,” Fox said. “In hindsight, I should have put the stop sign up, but that’s the way it goes.”
One key to that play for Oregon State was something subtle, but it should give the Beavers hope they can extend their dynasty even without Barney, Canham and co. A huge reason OSU is so good is its superior feel for the game, something intangible that is personified in players like Barney. Freshman second baseman Joey Wong demonstrated that same savvy on Williams’ double.
“You always try to read the game when the ball’s hit like that, and I knew there was a pretty good runner on base,” Barney said. “Myself, I didn’t think they were going to send him in that situation–if I’m the manager, that’s not what you want to do, I was pretty surprised. So I made sure Joey was following me, and something me and Joey try to do is always give each other information. He let me know the guy was running, he said, ‘Relay, relay!’ I just turned and threw it.”
Another freshman, righthander Jorge Reyes, was named the CWS Most Outstanding Player after starting and winning Oregon State’s opener against Cal State Fullerton and its CWS finals opener against North Carolina. Reyes has already etched his name alongside former Beaver greats–and he has at least two more years remaining in Corvallis.
“Jorge is lights out. You can see it in his eyes, you can see it in his mannerisms,” Barney said. “That’s what it takes to be a pitcher, that’s what Jonah Nickerson had, that’s what Kevin Gunderson had, and I think Jorge Reyes can do a lot of good things in his future.”
For Barney, Canham, Stutes and the other OSU players who are likely now headed to the professional ranks, their legacy is already secure, and they leave the program in capable hands. There can be no doubting that Oregon State is now a college baseball superpower, and not just because the Beavers joined elite programs Louisiana State, Stanford, Southern California and Texas as the only schools to repeat as national champions.
“I don’t have to convince these guys that they’re Texas or USC, because they’re Oregon State,” Beavers coach Pat Casey said. “We don’t need to be anybody but who we are, and tonight in Omaha, Nebraska, we’re the best club in the country.”
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