‘Ridiculous’ Beavers Impose Their Will

College World Series

 

 


OMAHA — It’s hard not to marvel at Oregon State’s resilience and general excellence. Heading into the world series, when somebody mentioned OSU’s 54-4 record during a press conference, LSU’s Paul Mainieri just shook his head and said, “Ridiculous.”

Surely plenty of observers reacted that same way on Saturday, after the Beavers stormed back from a four-run sixth-inning deficit to beat Cal State Fullerton 6-5 in the College World Series opener. What else can you do? Oregon State has a complete disregard for the law of averages and a stubborn, shameless unwillingness to even entertain the notion of losing. It’s ridiculous.

“We’ve been down before this season, and the thought of losing just never comes into our head,” said outfielder Trevor Larnach.

“I think there was never a doubt in anyone’s mind we wouldn’t end up winning the game,” added reliever Jake Mulholland. “We all battled really well and ended up coming back. It was great.”

The Beavers deserve a great deal of credit for hanging in there after Timmy Richards’ three-run homer put the Titans up three runs in the first, and after Chris Hudgins’ two-run single made it 5-1 in the fourth. Oregon State never stopped grinding out at-bats, working deep counts from the start of the game to the finish. Fullerton starter Connor Seabold was able to escape some jams in the first half of the game, but he still was forced to throw 97 pitches over five innings of work, a testament to OSU’s offensive tenacity.

And Oregon State stayed within itself in the sixth, when another premier strike-thrower, Colton Eastman, took the mound for the Titans. Eastman, who has worked as the No. 3 starter down the stretch, entered the game with just 32 walks in 133.2 career innings, so he seemed like a good choice to come in and pound the zone with a four-run lead. If the Titans could win Saturday and again on Monday to stay in the winners’ bracket, Eastman could come back to start their third game on Friday with plenty of rest.

It was a good plan. But sometimes the best-laid plans inexplicably blow up in your face.

Eastman just never had his command on Saturday. He walked leadoff man Michael Gretler on five pitches, and two batters later he walked pinch-hitter Tyler Malone on six. Then he walked Steven Kwan on five pitches to load the bases with one out. Most of his misses weren’t really that close — so sure, credit the Beavers for taking what they were given, but there’s no denying that Eastman’s baffling inability to locate jumpstarted the Oregon State comeback.

The Titans were dejected after blowing a four-run lead (Mandy Sorenson)

“That was a good game. They’re really good. And I’m stupid,” Fullerton coach Rick Vanderhook said at the start of his postgame remarks. “I out-thought myself. Eastman was on a normal rest. We had a healthy lead. At that point, I figured, ‘Let’s turn it over to the best guy,’ and definitely out-thought myself. Probably would do it different again. And I let them get back in the game — and you don’t do that to good teams. When you have them down, you keep them down, and we didn’t do that. We gave them momentum, and they took advantage of it. That’s why they’ve only lost four games.”

It certainly felt like the energy in the ballpark shifted after those first couple of walks, and then it just snowballed on Eastman. After a sacrifice fly, KJ Harrison came to the plate and fouled off pitch after pitch in a 13-pitch battle that ended in another walk, re-loading the bases. Harrison earned that walk the hard way — give him a lot of credit.

Eastman threw two more balls to the next hitter, Larnach, and finally, mercifully, the Titans pulled him. He threw 42 pitches, 22 balls in two-thirds of an inning.

“I tried to give him long enough — he’s earned it — to get himself out of it, but he couldn’t, and we paid the price for it,” Vanderhook said.

Reliever Blake Workman inherited that 2-0 count against Larnach, who won the battle by knocking a two-run single up the middle. The next batter, Jack Anderson, tied the game with another single up the middle. And in the eighth, the Beavers got two more singles up the middle to take the lead — one by Larnach to spark the rally, then one by catcher Adley Rutschman to drive him in two batters later.

“At the end, Blake got flat, and they can hit. They can really use the middle of the field,” Vanderhook said. “I mean, they whupped our ass.”

And ultimately, that’s how it felt. Sure, Fullerton contributed to its own demise with those four walks in the four-run sixth inning. But the Beavers also maintained a consistent offensive approach from start to finish, while the Titans did not – and when the dust settled, OSU had out-hit Fullerton 11-3. After working plenty of deep counts early in the game against Jake Thompson, the Titans didn’t put up much of a fight against Mulholland, who carved them up over 4.1 innings of hitless relief, throwing just 45 pitches (31 strikes). Mulholland quietly turned the game around when he entered with two outs in the fourth, settling the Beavers down and giving them a feeling of control. The Titans couldn’t figure him out, and they stopped grinding out at-bats, instead going down quietly early in counts.

“I was using my slider and curveball often early in counts, and when I was able to have a well-placed fastball, it was working well,” said Mulholland, who located his 86-87 heater well to both sides of the plate. “Just keeping hitters off balance even though my stuff is not as good as Jake’s and Drew (Rasmussen)’s, but just keeping them off balance any way I can.”

Oregon State lefty Jake Mulholland (Mandy Sorenson)

So that was the difference: Oregon State stayed in character even after falling behind early. Cal State Fullerton fell out of character after building that 5-1 lead. The Titans’ entire identity on the mound is built upon its rare strike-throwing process (they rank fourth in the nation with just 2.41 walks per nine innings). But the walks killed them Saturday, in conjunction with their own jumpiness at the plate in the second half of the game. The rhythm of the game told the story.

“As I told the guys, Colton had a rough outing. We were out there for like 45 pitches. I said, ‘It felt like you were out there for like two hours,’” Vanderhook said. “And we come up in seven pitches, and we’re back on the field again with the 7, 8, and 9 guys who could have grinded it a little more and at least let us catch our breath. We never caught our breath. When Mulholland came in, it was like we were out on defense for 25 minutes and in the dugout for two and out on defense, and it wears on you. We kept them out on defense early, and it wore on them a little bit as it went, but they’re tough outs. I mean, how many pitches did we throw? It felt like 7,000. One hundred seventy-six pitches. That’s a lot of pitches in eight innings that you’re throwing.”

But that’s Beaver Baseball — grind, grind, grind. And on this day, the Beavers simply imposed their will. Their style trumped Fullerton’s style and forced the Titans to crack.

You don’t go 54-4 — no, make that 55-4 — if you can’t win a battle of wills. You can’t go 55-4 if you wilt when you fall behind in a game. On Saturday, Oregon State reminded us all how ridiculous its willpower is.

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