THE GAME AT A GLANCE
Turning Point: Oregon State scored seven times in the bottom of the fourth inning, turning a five-run deficit into a 7-5 advantage. The Beavers entered that frame in need of something to get excited about. Tyler Graham started the push by stealing third base just before he scored the team's first run. Shea McFeely continued it with a two-run double to get the Beavers on the board. And Bill Rowe capped the inning with a three-run homer.
The Hero: Kevin Gunderson entered the game with 19 saves on the year, tying for the national lead. He got another type of save Sunday, keeping Oregon State's season alive with 5 1/3 strong innings. He entered the game down 5-0 and finished it by allowing just two more runs before he recorded the game's final out.
You May Not Have Noticed: North Carolina didn't end the game with any errors on the scoreboard, but key defensive lapses in the seventh inning allowed Oregon State to score four times to put the game out of reach. The Tar Heels misplayed bunts, failed to record outs and allowed another run to score on a passed ball. "To me, it's going to be about execution," UNC coach Mike Fox said. "We didn't field bunts or make plays when we had to."
OMAHA--Players in North Carolina's dugout looked mighty jubilant with a five-run lead in the top of the third inning. Maybe they were thinking about exactly how to assemble their title-winning dogpile or whom to embrace first.
"After we got that big lead, everyone kind of calmed down and we kind of put it on cruise control," North Carolina catcher Tim Federowicz said. "After that, they came back."
The Tar Heels found out what Beavers coach Pat Casey had been explaining in his team's postgame press conferences all week at the College World Series. Casey constantly marveled at his team's toughness as it won four straight elimination games following an 11-1 loss to Miami in its CWS opener.
He was doing so again Sunday night after Oregon State won its fifth elimination game in as many tries. The Beavers earned an 11-7 win after trailing 5-0 to force a decisive third game in the championship series Monday night.
"We've talked about playing with pride and playing hard," Casey said. "Those are two things an Oregon State baseball team will always do. You saw a bunch of young men with heart and guts on that field at Rosenblatt. That's one for the memories because we were down and we really battled."
No Oregon State player exemplifies those standards more than closer Kevin Gunderson. The junior promised a return to Omaha last season after his team was eliminated in two games. Not only did he help the team make good there, he helped keep the Beavers (49-16) here for at least one more day with a season-long relief performance of 5 1/3 innings.
Casey fired his last bullet in desperation after North Carolina (54-14) put its fifth run on the board with two outs in the fourth inning. He called on Gunderson, who's tied for the national lead with 19 saves, and the closer closed things out. Gunderson finished the game, allowing two runs on five hits while throwing 79 pitches.
"They weren't going to take me out. I knew it was my ballgame to win or lose," Gunderson said. "They were going to leave me out there for whatever, and it worked out for the best."
Oregon State responded with a seven-run rally as soon as Gunderson (3-2) struck out Josh Horton to end the fourth inning. North Carolina righthander Robert Woodard, who entered the inning having thrown 12 straight scoreless innings in Omaha, hit Tyler Graham to start the inning. John Wallace singled. Graham stole third, causing a stir on the bench. Chris Kunda walked to load the bases. Then Shea McFeely doubled to left field, bringing home two runs and chasing Woodard from the game.
The Oregon State dugout exploded and the rally had begun.
"It began with a couple of hits, a spark," said shortstop Darwin Barney, who went 3-for-4 with two runs scored. "That's the way it is in the college game. One spark can change the whole attitude."
So Woodard's scoreless string ended, but North Carolina coach Mike Fox turned to his bullpen, which hadn't allowed a run in 12 2/3 CWS innings. Matt Danford, who worked 1 2/3 innings in Saturday's win against Oregon State, didn't have the answer this time. He struck out Scott Santschi, before allowing an RBI single to Barney.
Three batters later, Danford (7-2) threw one too many curveballs to first baseman Bill Rowe. Rowe checked his swing on the first one, then started looking for a breaking ball. He liked the 2-0 offering and blasted it into right field for a three-run homer that gave Oregon State a 7-5 lead and stunned most of the 25,046 spectators at Rosenblatt Stadium.
"That inning happened pretty quickly," Fox said. "That's very uncharacteristic of Robert."
Oregon State struck again in the seventh inning, batting around for the second time in three innings to pile on four more runs and go ahead 11-5. Rowe drove home the first run of that inning to give him four RBIs in the same game in which he picked up his CWS-leading 11th hit.
North Carolina lost for the first time in the NCAA tournament, but after it got over the shock of giving up a lead, it started to fight back as well. Federowicz, who went 4-for-4 with four RBIs, crushed a two-run homer into a stiff wind blowing in from left field in the seventh inning, and Chad Flack tripled with two outs in the ninth inning.
"We've battled all year," Fox said. "That was a big swing of the bat by Chad Flack. I know he got stranded at third, but we were trying to deliver a message that we're going to play for the national championship tomorrow.
"Maybe that's the way it should be, two really good teams battling it out."
Said Barney: "We're good to get this first win, but we've got a lot of business to take care of. We're playing one game for one championship, what's better than that?"