Oregon State’s Season One For The AgesColumns
OMAHA — In the minutes following Oregon State’s surprising elimination from the College World Series by sudden Cajun hero and LSU righthander Caleb Gilbert, legendary head coach Pat Casey was unable to put the season into words.
I can’t blame him.
There’s going to be a time when he can sit back and adequately give this season justice. But the time wasn’t yesterday, and heck, it’s probably not today or anytime this week, either. But that time, you know, will come.
“I told the guys, it’s a tough day when you’ve had such a great year. And now isn’t the time to really think about that or talk about it,” Casey said after his team’s loss to LSU. “But I know there will be a time when they will get to sit back and reflect and realize what they accomplished. And I know they’re not satisfied. But they’ll look back in a few days and feel pretty good about it, I can tell you that much.”
To fit all his thoughts on this year’s OSU team — which spent much of the season as the nation’s top-ranked team – into a two or three-minute sound bite at a press conference wouldn’t have been close to enough.
But contrary to what some twitter trolls and other college baseball fans out there are saying, the Beavers had a magical season to remember. Sure, the Beavers didn’t win the national title, the sport’s ultimate prize. That much is true. But to suggest that they “choked” or “didn’t play a tough enough schedule throughout the regular season” are both inaccurate statements.
I think back to what LSU coach Paul Mainieri and TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle said when the CWS began, which by the way, seems like an eternity. A writer asked them about getting to Omaha and finding a way to win the national title. And while both outstanding coaches pointed out how much more difficult it is to get to Omaha these days, they smartly also pointed out how much tougher it is to win once in Omaha.
It isn’t easy, folks.
Remember last year when powerhouses such as LSU, Texas A&M, Mississippi State and Louisville didn’t even get to play at TD Ameritrade Park? How many of you had Arizona facing Coastal Carolina in the CWS Finals last year? How about a deeper dive into the history books, and you can find multiple teams with incredible records who failed to win the national title. For instance, Arizona State finished as the national runner-up in 1972 with an insane 60-4 record, while Texas fell just short of a national title in 1982 despite finishing the year with a 57-4 overall record. There’s also South Carolina, which went 47-4 in 1975, but yep, you guessed it, didn’t win the national title. For another crazy example, how about 1989 Texas A&M, which spent much of the season ranked No. 1 and went 58-7. But like these Beavers, saw their season come to an end against LSU, only that was in a regional (pre super regional days). There are countless examples just like those.
Those are incredible seasons and should be remembered as much.
The same goes for the Beavers. Oregon State entered the CWS with the best winning percentage (.931) since that Texas team back in 1982. Furthermore, the Beavers had the 11th best all-time winning percentage entering the event. And those 10 teams ahead of OSU? None went home with the hardware.
Some other aspects of OSU’s 56-6 campaign are mind-boggling: The Beavers’ losses to LSU to end the CWS were their first back-to-back setbacks since the 2016 season, while it’s still amazing that OSU put together two 23-game winning streaks this season. Additionally, OSU finished Pac-12 play with an insane 27-3 record.
As if that isn’t enough, it might be a while – well, maybe OSU next season – before we marvel so much over a single pitching staff. Oregon State had the nation’s elite pitching staff this season, and if you go strictly by ERA, it wasn’t close. OSU finished the year with a 1.93 ERA. The closest team behind the Beavers? Illinois-Chicago at 2.65, while Louisville ended the season with a 2.92 ERA.
The Beavers also had one of the nation’s elite defensive teams, while the offense was more than productive for much of the season, hitting .297 entering the two games against LSU. The final two games against the Tigers, though? The Beavs hit .085, but don’t let that diminish what Steven Kwan, Nick Madrigal and KJ Harrison and others did the prior 60 games.
Some talked throughout the past two weeks about where Oregon State would rank all-time in terms of college baseball teams if it had won the national title. Perhaps the Beavers would’ve won the national title had it had lefthander Luke Heimlich, who wasn’t allowed to travel with the team, in Omaha. But the Beavers put together a season that should be talked about as one of the all-time best teams no matter what. They just won’t head home with the trophy.
While the season ended in disappointment for the Beavers, that feeling won’t last long. They have a lot to be proud about, and boy, do they have a lot to look forward to.
OSU will be heavily in the mix for the No. 1 spot preseason in 2018. Sure, the Beavers will be without Drew Rasmussen and Jake Thompson, who almost certainly will sign in the coming days. But they’ll welcome back lefthander Luke Heimlich, Jake Mulholland, Brandon Eisert, Grant Gambrell and Bryce Fehmel, among others. Offensively, almost everyone is back. The Beavers will lose Harrison to the draft, but Nick Madrigal, Steven Kwan, Cadyn Grenier, Trevor Larnach, Michael Gretler, Jack Anderson and rising star Adley Rutschman are all back next season.
There are no guarantees in college baseball, the Beavers know that more than anyone. But after OSU was eliminated from the CWS in 2005, hard-nosed reliever Kevin Gunderson guaranteed a Beavers return trip to Rosenblatt Stadium in ’06. What’d the Beavers do? They won back-to-back national titles in ’06 and ’07.
“It’s unfortunate that we lost, but the Beavers will be back next year, I can promise you that,” Gunderson said. “We’ve got a great nucleus coming back. We’re losing some strong guys, but we’ve got some good guys coming in. The Beavers will be back in Omaha next year in 2006, I can promise you that.”
Just a few hours after OSU was eliminated from this year’s CWS, Steven Kwan didn’t mince words when he tweeted out three words: “We’ll be back”.
Perhaps another Beavers proclamation will soon come true, and with similar results.