Oregon State ‘Finishes’ Off CWS Title

Image credit: (Photo by Justin Tafoya/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

OMAHA, Neb.—All year long, Oregon State has broken its huddles to one word: Finish. The word, repeated so many times after practices and games and anytime the Beavers were together, was a reminder of the disappointing end to the 2017 season and a goal for the 2018 season.

Oregon State last year entered the NCAA Tournament as the No. 1 overall seed and one of the favorites at the College World Series. But its season came to disappointing end when it lost back-to-back games against Louisiana State in the CWS semifinals. A team that had a chance to be one of the greatest of all time instead was knocked out before it even had a chance to play for the national title.

That loss fueled the Beavers this year. Second baseman Nick Madrigal said as soon as LSU eliminated Oregon State, he flipped a switch mentally to the 2018 season and did everything he could to get the Beavers back to Omaha to give them another chance. Shortstop Cadyn Grenier said the feeling at the end of last year’s CWS was one that none of the Beavers wanted to experience again. Right fielder Trevor Larnach said it left a salty taste in their mouths.

That taste was washed away Thursday night in Omaha. Oregon State defeated Arkansas, 5-0, in Game 3 of the CWS finals to claim the national championship. It is the third national title in program history and first since the Beavers won back-to-back championships in 2006-07.

Freshman righthander Kevin Abel threw a two-hit shutout and All-American catcher Adley Rutschman powered the offense with three hits and two RBIs. The victory saw Oregon State (55-12-1) complete a comeback that had started the night before, in Game 2, when it had been one strike away from being swept in the best-of-three series before pulling out an improbable victory to force Thursday’s Game 3.

Above all, the Beavers had finished.

“All offseason long, from the first day, this has been our goal,” Madrigal said. “We’ve said we’ve got to finish this year and we did exactly that. It took a total team effort. Not one guy could have won this by themselves. From top to bottom we needed every single guy on this team.”

Oregon State really did need just about its whole roster in Omaha. It lost its opening game of the CWS against North Carolina, dropping it into the losers’ bracket. But Oregon State fought through four straight elimination games, knocking out Washington, North Carolina and Mississippi State to get to the finals. Arkansas (48-21) beat Oregon State in the first game of the finals, putting the Beavers’ backs against the walls again.

But, again, the Beavers found a way. Oregon State trailed Arkansas, 3-2, in the ninth inning of Game 2 and nearly saw its dream crushed again. Grenier lofted a pop up into foul ground up the first base line, a ball that he thought was going to be caught for the final out. Instead, it fell in and Grenier took advantage of his newfound life to drive in the game-tying run. Larnach followed with a two-run home run to send the series to a decisive Game 3, where the Beavers wouldn’t be denied.

Grenier said the only time he ever doubted that Oregon State would win the championship was in the moment Wednesday night when his pop up was in the air.

“I thought for sure it was going to get caught,” he said. “After I got that hit and Trevor hit that home run we came into today and I knew there was no way we were going to let that get away from us again.”

Rutschman and Larnach led the way offensively for Oregon State in Omaha. Rutschman set a CWS record with 17 hits in the tournament and was named Most Outstanding Player. Larnach had 15 hits of his own, including that game-winning home run in Game 2 of the finals. On the mound, Abel won four games during the CWS—another record. Lefthander Brandon Eisert, deployed as a longman out of the bullpen, often looked like Oregon State’s best pitcher. All up and down Oregon State’s roster, players found a way to contribute to the Beavers’ success.

The depth of Oregon State’s roster and the elite talent in its junior class—Madrigal, Larnach and Grenier were all earlier this month drafted in the top 40 picks—made it one of the dominant forces in college baseball over the last two years. The Beavers won 111 games, twice reached the final four of the CWS and produced six All-Americans.

As much talent as the Beavers have had the last two years, coach Pat Casey said the makeup and mentality of the team has been the real key to their success.

“We’ve won a lot of games in the last two years,” he said. “I know it’s a cliché people use all the time about their character and their guys. But it’s really true. There’s nothing that’s going to come from anything if everybody isn’t invested in on another.”

Oregon State has been tested on the field time and again over the last few years. In 2016, it was perhaps the biggest snub from the NCAA Tournament. That slight fueled the Beavers during their magical 2017 run. The disappointment of last year then fed into this year’s fire.

But this year wasn’t easy for Oregon State. Madrigal, the 2017 Pac-12 player of the year, broke his hand in February and was sidelined for six weeks. During that time, the Beavers lost back-to-back conference series. Those losses ultimately cost them a chance at back-to-back conference titles and forced a reckoning within the team.

“We stubbed our toe pretty good there,” Casey said. “We just didn’t buy into the fact that we weren’t going to be great. We came out and worked every day, talked about getting better. Everybody had to get better. I had to get better. The coaching staff had to get better. The players had to get better. We just weren’t going to take no for an answer.”

Oregon State has also been the subject of a harsh spotlight over the last year after The Oregonian reported last year that ace lefthander Luke Heimlich pled guilty to a sex crime he committed as a teenager. The report came last year following regionals and Heimlich did not pitch the rest of the year, removing himself from the team before the CWS. He returned to the mound this year and went 16-3, 2.92. Heimlich was not drafted in either of the last two years following the report and it is unclear whether he’ll ever pitch again.

This Beavers team, unlike last year’s, didn’t come to Omaha with the chance to go down as one of the best ever. Their winning percentage isn’t one of the four-best of all-time and they didn’t rewrite the Pac-12 record book.

But they have something the 2017 team doesn’t—a national championship, the goal they have all held since committing to Oregon State.

“This is the reason you come (to Oregon State),” Grenier said. “And that’s aside of making a lot of lifetime friends and playing with some of the best players in the nation and getting some real good coaching. I can’t explain this feeling.”

The Beavers on Thursday did what they came to Omaha to do—they finished. And by doing so, they fulfilled the promise they came to Corvallis with, ending their careers in a dogpile at TD Ameritrade Park as fireworks burst in the fading evening twilight.

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