OMAHA–For one day, the Pacific-10 Conference held sway over its plucky, non-football-playing neighbor, the Big West.
After Pac-10 champ Arizona State took down the Big West’s UC Irvine in Saturday’s opener, Oregon State opened defense of its 2006 national championship by beating Cal State Fullerton 3-2 in the nightcap. An overflow crowd of 26,559, the ninth-largest crowd in CWS history, took in a game that had little drama until a ninth-inning Beavers error that made things interesting.
Righthander Jorge Reyes (pictured at right), the third freshman to earn a start in this year’s first four CWS games, was the first to earn a victory as he pitched six efficient innings, giving up only one run. He needed just 79 pitches but came out early, due in part to a tweaked leg muscle. Joe Paterson followed and gave up a run in 2 2/3 innings, and seemed to have closed the door in the ninth when he got Evan McArthur to lift a fly ball to shallow left field with two outs.
But Beavers shortstop Darwin Barney and left fielder John Wallace miscommunicated, and Wallace’s last-minute adjustment allowed him to get a glove on the ball but not to catch it. McArthur reached safely, and pinch-runner Matthew Fahey advanced to third after pinch-hitter Jon Wilhite greeted closer Eddie Kunz with a line-drive single to right.
Kunz regrouped, however, and retired pinch-hitter Joel Weeks on a groundout to Barney at short to end the game and notch his 12th save.
“I was feeling pretty good (about our defense) until two outs in the ninth,” Oregon State coach Pat Casey deadpanned. “We always ask our guys to commit to defense . . . Darwin and Joey (Wong) turned a great double play (in the fourth inning), and we’ve got Hoppy (Chris Hopkins) in center, and Mitch (Canham) behind the plate, so we’re strong up the middle.”
The loss left the Titans facing an elimination game against Big West compatriot UC Irvine, coached by Horton’s longtime former assistant, Dave Serrano. The duo won a national title with the Titans in 2004, and Serrano left to take the top Anteaters job that summer after eight seasons as Horton’s wingman.
“It will be bittersweet–one of us will have to go home,” Horton said. “The other thing I think about is, it’s Pac-10 two, Big West 0-and-2. One of us will have to carry the Big West flag, but I know whichever one of us does will give the Pac-10 everything it can handle.”
Both Pac-10 teams won one-run games, with the winning margins provided by the long ball. The Beavers staked Reyes to an early 2-0 lead with single runs in the first two frames against Fullerton ace Wes Roemer (11-7). DH Mike Lissman touched Roemer for a solo homer in the first inning, and the Beavers scratched out a second run in the second, using a leadoff single by Wallace, an errant pickoff throw to first by Roemer and an RBI single by senior outfielder Scott Santschi.
Santschi proved crucial again later, knocking a solo homer in the seventh to give the Beavers an insurance run. His first home run of the season was just his third career homer and provided an exclamation point to a tough season that started with him unable to even make the trip to Hawaii-Hilo for the season-opening series, due to his recovery from fall shoulder surgery.
Santschi’s blast was the seventh CWS homer Roemer has yielded in three career starts. “It’s a tough park to pitch in,” the junior righthander said. “I thought I pitched a decent game. I made two mistakes, and that was the difference in the game.”
And the difference, on this day, between two leagues.