Oregon State has reached college baseball’s grandest stage seven times in program history.
Six have come in the last 14 years under Pat Casey, who believes every trip to the College World Series is a unique experience.
“I remember the first day I stepped on the field in Omaha and I thought I was in baseball heaven,” OSU’s 59-year-old coach said Saturday after clinching the Corvallis Super Regional. The third-seeded Beavers (49-10-1) will open the CWS against No. 6 North Carolina (43-18) at noon Saturday, the NCAA announced Monday evening.
“You never know if you’re going to get back, so crazy things happen.”
OSU didn’t qualify for the NCAA tournament until Casey’s 11th season at the school. The Beavers won the 2005 Pac-10 championship — their first conference title since 1994 — and went 3-0 at the Corvallis Regional to set up a home rematch with USC in the supers.
After taking the opener, OSU blew a late 8-3 lead in the second game and fell 9-8 in 10 innings. USC’s three-run ninth-inning rally included a Jeff Clement solo home run and a dropped fly ball in the outfield.
“I told our guys after the game, I said, ‘Hey, if we believe that we’re the team that we are then pack your bags, we’re going to Omaha,’” Casey recalled. “And to say that with USC in here and Ian Kennedy on the mound and all the guys they had, it was awesome.”
Andy Jenkins, a current assistant coach, hit for the cycle as OSU gutted out a 10-8 victory in the finale. The Beavers were back at the CWS for the first time since 1952.
OSU won consecutive national titles in 2006-07 — defeating North Carolina in both finals — and also qualified for the CWS in 2013 and 2017. Casey has fond memories of all five trips, including the quick exit in 2005.
“They are all different and they are all special,” Casey said. “Obviously ’05 was our first time, and we kind of shocked the world a little bit there.”
The college baseball world would not be shocked if OSU captures its third national title in 2018.
The Beavers, who are 105-16-1 overall the past two seasons, have outscored the opposition 49-8 through five postseason games. OSU did trail in Saturday’s 6-3 victory over Minnesota, but the offense came alive late to clinch the Corvallis Super Regional.
“They have an outstanding lineup,” Golden Gophers coach John Anderson said. “They are going to give people trouble trying to pitch to that lineup for nine innings, we found that out.
“It’ll be interesting to see how that offense plays in the big stadium, but they sure do put the ball in play and they grind out at-bats for you up and down the lineup.”
OSU is hitting .320 as a team, the third-highest mark in all of Division I, entering cavernous TD Ameritrade Park. The Beavers are tied for fourth nationally with a .981 fielding percentage.
“(Adley) Rutschman does an outstanding job back there handling that staff and they are strong up the middle,” Anderson said. “If you’re going to be a championship team, you’ve got to be strong up the middle. And they are strong up the middle.”
The Beavers’ starting rotation of Luke Heimlich (16-1, 2.32 earned run average), Bryce Fehmel (10-1, 2.87) and Kevin Abel (4-1, 3.58) has also impressed throughout the postseason.
Heimlich struck out nine in 8? innings of one-run ball as OSU defeated Minnesota 8-1 in the Corvallis Super Regional opener. Fehmel didn’t have his usual command but still limited the Golden Gophers to three runs in six-plus innings Saturday night.
“Heimlich, he’s a pro pitcher,” Anderson said. “He’s the top left-handed pitcher maybe I’ve seen in my career based on how he pitched the other night. Fehmel is going to get you to try and expand the zone, use his three pitches and wants you to chase.”
Abel worked eight shutout innings against LSU, striking out eight with one walk. Bullpen members Dylan Pearce, Brandon Eisert, Sam Tweedt, Jake Mulholland and Christian Chamberlain have combined to throw 7? scoreless innings with 12 strikeouts in the NCAA tournament.
“With Heimlich on the mound, they’ll be able to beat anybody in the country,” Anderson said. “Fehmel will go out there and he’ll force you to really try to put together a good at-bat … and the two lefties I saw tonight (Chamberlain, Mulholland) were pretty special. I like their chances, I really do, based on what I saw out there the last two games.
“I wouldn’t count them out in Omaha, that’s for sure.”