Oregon State Reaches Historic Offensive Totals In College World Series Win
OMAHA, Neb.—Oregon State head coach Pat Casey has no explanation.
And who could blame him?
Casey, rightfully, has the utmost faith in his starting pitchers. Ace lefthander Luke Heimlich and No. 2 starter Bryce Fehmel combined to go 26-2 over the course of the regular season. Yet, bizarrely, through four combined starts in Omaha, neither one has pitched beyond the fourth inning. Of the 36 innings the Beavers have played in the College World Series, Heimlich and Fehmel have contributed just 12.2 despite starting twice each—leaving the OSU bullpen to account for the other two-thirds.
Even stranger than that:
It hasn’t mattered.
After a 12-2 beatdown of Mississippi State on Friday, the Beavers are one win away from returning to the CWS finals. And they haven’t advanced this far because of their trademark West Coast pitching and defensive prowess. They’ve done it by unleashing the most devastating offensive onslaught TD Ameritrade Park has ever seen.
The Beavers on Friday become only the second team in CWS history to score 11 or more runs in three straight games. Their combined 43-run total is the highest ever for any CWS team through four games at TD Ameritrade Park, which opened in 2011.
“Besides the fact that they've got really good players—exceptional players through the first four—they do a really good job of making you pay for mistakes,” said Mississippi State interim head coach Gary Henderson, after watching his pitching staff surrender 12 runs on 15 hits and nine walks.
“It's true if you make good pitches you can get them out. But the margin of error when you're facing them right now is not very good . . . You have to be really, really good. And we just weren't sharp enough today to earn a victory.”
What’s made Oregon State’s offensive outpouring all the more impressive is that it hasn’t been spearheaded by one small section of the batting order. Yes, Day 1 draft picks Nick Madrigal, Trevor Larnach and Cadyn Grenier have each played sizable roles, as has future first-rounder catcher Adley Rutschman, who has produced a CWS-leading nine RBIs.
But seven different players drove in runs for OSU on Friday; even nine-hole hitter Zak Taylor contributed a massive knock with a two-run triple in the seventh inning. The Beavers are here despite losing leadoff hitter and fifth-rounder Steven Kwan to a hamstring injury in the CWS’ second game. They’re here despite not getting even a five-inning outing from a starting pitcher.
True to the team concept, players have found ways to fill in the gaps. Easy to overlook in Friday’s blowout, lefty reliever Brandon Eisert threw a career-high 5.1 innings and allowed just one hit out of the bullpen, saving the rest of the staff for a do-or-die rematch with the Bulldogs on Saturday.
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“I don't think any of us really pay attention to stats. We go out there and we want to play for each other,” said senior outfielder Kyle Nobach, who went 2-for-5 with an RBI Friday. “And I think that raises your level of play, when your focus is not on yourself and it's on the team. And I think everybody feels that way.
“I mean, the outfield wants to do it for Kwany, who is banged up right now. And our starting pitching is not throwing well, and Eisy wanted to do it for those guys. I don't think it's anything crazy. All of our guys have worked hard and everybody works hard. But if you've got a bigger purpose and a ‘why’ for what you're doing, I think your level of play goes up.”
Can it stay up?
The Beavers disposed of Bulldogs starter Jacob Billingsley quickly Friday, tagging him for six runs in just 1.1 innings. But they’ll face a significantly tougher test in the form of lefthander Ethan Small on Saturday, who is 5-3, 2.89 on the year and who threw seven scoreless frames in his first start of the CWS against Washington.
Further complicating matters is Oregon State’s lack of a true, dependable third starter beyond Heimlich and Fehmel. Lefthander Christian Chamberlain and righthander Grant Gambrell and Kevin Abel have all moonlighted in that role and could all be in play for Saturday. But certainly, Mississippi State comes in with an edge on the mound.
“It's no knock on the starting pitching, we just really haven't got a good start,” Casey said. “So we're kind of concerned about —obviously you're pinned against the wall when you get to the losers' bracket. And never would have dreamed that Eisy would have given us that much length (Friday); never would have dreamed that Fehm couldn't get us through to five. But it's been kind of a scrap deal with the mound and some guys have come in and done really well.
“Obviously we're kind of up against it a little bit here. So we might have to piece it together just to get through it.”
Or they could just put up another crooked number.