Oregon State wins series 2-1
THE GAME AT A GLANCE
Turning Point: North Carolina looked like it had escaped a two-out, two-on jam in the bottom of the eighth inning. Ace Andrew Miller came out of the bullpen to induce a routine ground ball to second base from pinch-hitter Ryan Gipson. But UNC second baseman Bryan Steed threw wide of Tim Federowicz, who was late covering first base, and the throw sailed past him. Bill Rowe scored the game’s decisive run from second base on the error.
The Hero: Dallas Buck and Kevin Gunderson each appeared out of the bullpen with weary arms and legs, but neither pitcher had gone through as stressful an eight-day period as starter Jonah Nickerson. He threw 100 pitches over 6 2/3 innings, running his three-start total to 323. But Nickerson didn’t allow an earned run for the last 16 1/3 innings he pitched, and even though he didn’t earn a decision, he earned the CWS Most Outstanding Player honors.
You May Not Have Noticed: North
“This is not ever about one player
OMAHA–Bill Rowe’s father Douglas is an actor
who has made appearances in M*A*S*H, Star Trek and ER. So naturally,
Oregon State’s senior first baseman was asked what kind of script
he’d write for the Beavers before the finals of the College World
“I told him Jonah would come back
on short days’ rest and Gundy would come in with two on and two out,”
Rowe said. “I was standing there at first base watching it
If Rowe hadn’t been, he might not have
believed the ending. Starter Jonah Nickerson worked into the seventh
inning for the third time in eight days, and closer Kevin Gunderson
came out of the bullpen with two on in the ninth, but there was only
The one thing Rowe left out was the
excitement he’d feel rounding third base with the go-ahead run in the
bottom of the eighth inning. He scored when North Carolina second
baseman Bryan Steed fielded a routine grounder with two outs but
threw wide of first base, allowing Rowe to race home from second
Oregon State held on for a 3-2 win, coming out on the positive
end of its sixth straight elimination game to capture the second
national championship in school history in front of 18,565 spectators
at Rosenblatt Stadium. Just as they had in bracket play, the Beavers
lost the first game of the championship series to North Carolina
(54-15), but didn’t lose again.
“The will of this team, we tried
to compete hard and never give up,” said center fielder Tyler Graham, who capped a CWS of outstanding defensive plays by catching the final out. “We can play with anyone in the country. We never doubted
ourselves and from there we just took the national championship.”
Oregon State’s path to becoming the
Northern-most national champion since Minnesota won it all in 1964
was nearly as unlikely as a team from that latitude winning a title
in a sport dominated by teams from California, Florida, Texas and the
rest of the sun belt. The Beavers (50-16) set a record by winning six
elimination games and became the first team to lose two games in
Omaha and still leave as champions. They also tied Stanford’s 2003
mark by playing eight times at Rosenblatt Stadium.
“I’m sick of Rosenblatt Stadium,”
righthander Dallas Buck told his celebrating teammates during the
trophy presentation. “Let’s get the hell out of here.”
Many predicted that might happen much
earlier for Oregon State, which lost its first CWS game 11-1 to
Miami. Instead, Oregon State became the second team in the last 26
years to win the College World Series after losing its first game.
Southern California turned the trick in 1998.
The Beavers followed their opening-game
loss by winning four elimination games in four days, toppling
Georgia, Miami and top-ranked Rice twice.
“Every player was on fumes and we
just kept battling,” Nickerson said. “That shows how tough
Nickerson earned wins in the first and
last of those wins–with just two days’ rest in between–to get his team into the championship series
against a North Carolina team that was undefeated in the NCAA
tournament and fully rested on the mound, where it owned the luxury
of sending out two first-round draft picks in the finals.
After North Carolina earned a 4-3 win
in the opener, it didn’t look like Nickerson would even get the
chance to make his CWS record-tying third start. But he did, and worked 6 2/3 innings,
allowing just two unearned runs to leave with both a national
championship trophy and the Most Outstanding Player Award. Those are
the spoils for someone who throws 323 pitches in eight days and
doesn’t allow an earned run for the final 16 1/3 innings in the CWS.
“He kept us in three games in
eight days, and he dominated for about 2 1/2 of those games,”
Oregon State pitching coach Dan Spencer said.
Nickerson didn’t earn the win in the
finale, but he kept his team in position to do so. North Carolina got
to Nickerson in the top of the fifth inning, a frame that saw two
impressive Oregon State streaks end. Jay Cox reached on the first OSU
error in 51 1/3 innings in Omaha. He scored two batters later on an
RBI double by Seth Williams that represented the first run scored
against Nickerson in 14 CWS innings. That run, and the one that
followed it to tie the score that inning, was unearned, the first
such runs the Beavers had allowed in the NCAA tournament.
Nickerson threw his 300th pitch in
eight days in the sixth inning, and North Carolina had a chance to
take the lead and knock him out of the game with runners at the
corners and one out. But UNC ran itself out of the inning when Tim
Federowicz grounded to third base. Shea McFeely threw out Josh Horton
at home, then Jay Cox, who was on first base, got caught in a rundown
between second and third base to end the inning.
Nickerson’s night brought back memories
of Stanford’s John Hudgins throwing 334 pitches over 10 days and
three starts in the 2003 CWS. Unlike Hudgins, Nickerson produced his
heroics for the winning team.
“I knew if I pitched my best, we would keep playing,” said Nickerson, who paid $85 for a massage at the team hotel Friday.
Nickerson’s relief was only slightly more rested than he was. Righthander Buck, who
went 6 1/3 innings Saturday in the first game of the championship
series, started lobbying to enter the game in the sixth inning. He
got his wish in the eighth, entering with two runners on and no outs.
Buck induced a ground out from Cox before walking the bases loaded.
Then he struck out Seth Williams and Benji Johnson back to back, the
second K ending the inning as Josh Horton raced down the third-base line on a
1-2 pitch in what would have been a straight steal of home.
“They had two guys on with no outs, so you can’t let them score,” said Buck, who pitched as a closer during his freshman season and recorded a save in OSU’s super-regional-clinching win in 2005. “I can’t say I was surprised because I knew I could do it. That fired the team up. It got a little mo (momentum) on our side.”
Buck earned his first winning decision in four career appearances in Omaha to improve to 13-3 in his junior season.
“Dallas Buck is a warrior,”
Spencer said. “He bleeds winning. I felt so good for him to get
in the game and go do the things he did tonight because he hadn’t had
much luck here.”
North Carolina earned one more chance
in the ninth inning. It got a one-out single followed by a walk to
bring up Horton, its top hitter and the ACC batting champion.
Gunderson, who pitched a season-long 5 1/3 innings Sunday, came out of the bullpen to get Horton to hit into a force
play. North Carolina’s last chance was Chad Flack, who hit two homers including a
game-winner against Alabama in the super-regional and scored the
winning run in Saturday’s game. Flack made solid contact, but his fly ball ended up in the glove of center fielder Tyler Graham.
“If I could take all their arm pain and put it in mine, I would,” Rowe said. “They deserve it.”
North Carolina scored 11 of its 13 runs
in the championship series with two outs, but left the tying run on
third base in the top of the ninth. It marked
Gunderson’s 20th save of the season, giving him sole possession of
the NCAA lead. But the 5-foot-10, 165-pound lefthander was more concerned with
sole possession of something else that belonged to the NCAA: the
national championship trophy he grabbed on the field, carried around
and stode into the postgame press conference clutching.
Just as Rowe had envisioned.