Omaha, Neb. -- Oregon State, despite losing their opening round game of the College World Series to the University of North Carolina, is headed to the finals, defeating Mississippi State 5-2. Where the offense carried the Beavers most of the way in this tournament, it was the performance of freshman pitcher Kevin Abel that propelled OSU to the promised land.
This time last season, Oregon State was in the same position, and lost to Lousiana State. Taped to the wall of the dugout against Mississippi State on Saturday was a newspaper write-up following that defeat in 2017: a reminder of missed opportunities. None of those chances fell by the wayside, as the Beavers held firm with some excellent defensive plays, took advantage of poor Bulldog baserunning, and managed to get runs on the Bulldogs No. 1 pitcher.
MSU's ace, Ethan Small, who was unavailable on Friday due to a batting practice accident, stepped onto the mound and looked unflappable in the first two innings. Then something happened. In the top of the third inning, with two outs on the scoreboard, Beaver catcher Adley Rutschman opened things up with his 80th RBI of the season, adding to his already spectacular postseason in Omaha. He was followed up with an RBI from third baseman Michael Gretler, and later came Tyler Malone. After providing the cherry on top of the Beavers win over North Carolina, a two run homerun late in the game, Malone stepped into the box and broke the game open against the Bulldogs. A three-run homer gave Oregon State a 5-0 cushion heading into the middle innings. In the process, the Beavers surpassed the single season team run record of 504, and surpassed the team record for runs scored in Omaha during a CWS run.
Where the OSU starters had a combined earned-run average of 12.00 coming into the game, Kevin Abel delivered seven innings in one of the best performances the freshman had since a Civil War matchup with the University of Oregon. He finished with five strikeouts and only one run allowed. The long performance allowed the Beaver bullpen to get a breather after nearly a week of consistent action. As just a freshman, he outperformed Small, Mississippi State's top pitcher, on a massive stage in June. Jake Mulholland, Oregon State's reliable closer, entered in the 8th inning and shut the door, though it wasn't without some drama.
The Bulldogs, who have seven walkoff wins this season, got two on base with two outs in the bottom of the 9th courtesy of two walks by Mulholland. An RBI cut the Beavers margin to three runs, 5-2, and a hit-by-pitch loaded the bases. The winning run, with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, fell to Jordan Westburg. As the collective tension and anxiety of Beaver nation began to seep through the ESPN transmisson and into the living rooms from Corvallis to Omaha, Westburg grounded out. A sigh of relief. Oregon State had done it.
With the University of Arkansas already qualified for the College World Series, the stage is set. SEC vs. Pac-12 for the NCAA title. It will be the Beavers first appearance in the finals since their title run in 2007. The game will be broadcast on ESPN and first pitch is set for 7:00 pm E.T.