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 Carolina coach Mike Fox shuffled his defensive alignment Monday night, starting catcher Tim Federowicz at first base for the fourth time all season. He pinch-hit for his best defensive second baseman, Garrett Gore, in the fifth inning, sending Bryan Steed into the field as a defensive replacement. Steed's throw and Federowicz' inexperience at first base (he got there late and had his foot atop the bag rather than in front of it) contributed to North Carolina's CWS-record fourth error of the game and proved fatal to its national title hopes.
"This is not ever about one player or one pitch; this is a team sport," North Carolina coach Mike Fox said. "It's on me, I mismanaged the game several times. You can put any of it on me, but not on my players, that's for sure."
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 Series.
"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 happen."
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 one out.
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 we are."
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.