Ore­gon State coach uses snub as fuel

The Standard Journal - - SPORTS | CLASSIFIEDS - By Eric Ol­son

OMAHA, Neb. — The pop­u­lar nar­ra­tive has been that Ore­gon State’s run to the na­tional cham­pi­onship was fu­eled by the Beavers’ de­sire to redeem them­selves for fiz­zling out in last year’s Col­lege World Se­ries.

Coach Pat Casey doesn’t dis­pute that. But he says there is more to it.

“I think the fuel started these guys’ fresh­man year in ’16 when we weren’t in the tour­na­ment,” Casey said. “I sat there and looked at those guys and I said: ‘There’s only one way to re­spond to that, man. We make a de­ci­sion.’ Those guys were com­mit­ted to that. We came back last year and had the greatest sea­son ever. Came here, played a re­ally good LSU club and didn’t get it done. That didn’t keep us from say­ing let’s do it again.”

The 2016 team went 35-19 and was one of the first teams left out of the NCAA Tour­na­ment. It in­cluded 2018 first-round draft picks Nick Madri­gal, Trevor Lar­nach and Ca­dyn Gre­nier, and three other play­ers who were taken in the first 10 rounds.

The 2017 team turned in one of the best sea­sons in col­lege base­ball his­tory. The Beavers came to Omaha 54-4 and as the No. 1 na­tional seed. They won two games here and then, with its of­fense hav­ing gone dor­mant, lost twice to LSU.

This year’s club was more re­silient than dom­i­nant.

Madri­gal, the No. 4 over­all pick by the Chicago White Sox, missed 26 games with a wrist in­jury. The Beavers lost back-to-back mid­sea­son se­ries at Utah, which fin­ished last in the Pac-12, and at sixth-place Ari­zona.

As the post­sea­son neared, na­tional at­ten­tion was fo­cused on Luke Heim­lich, the star pitcher whose guilty plea to mo­lest­ing a young rel­a­tive when he was 15 was re­vis­ited in pro­files by Sports Il­lus­trated and the New York Times. Heim­lich, who mostly strug­gled in three CWS ap­pear­ances, de­nied wrong­do­ing in in­ter­views with both pub­li­ca­tions, say­ing he pleaded guilty to spare his fam­ily the or­deal of a trial.

On the field, the Beavers swept through their re­gional and super re­gional be­fore los­ing their CWS opener. They then won four straight elim- ina­tion games to reach the best-of-three fi­nals against Ar­kan­sas.

In Game 2, they were the ben­e­fi­ciary of a colos­sal bad break for Ar­kan­sas as a foul ball dropped be­tween three field­ers with two outs in the ninth in­ning. Had the Razorbacks caught that ball, they would have won their first na­tional cham­pi­onship.

“Once that ball dropped, I said to my­self: ‘We’re not done,’” Lar­nach said.

Af­ter be­ing down to their last strike, Gre­nier de­liv­ered the ty­ing sin­gle and Lar­nach hit the win­ning two-run homer to even the se­ries. Fresh­man Kevin Abel then took the mound and earned a record fourth CWS win by pitch­ing a two-hit­ter and re­tir­ing the last 20 bat­ters he faced in a 5-0 win that locked up the na­tional cham­pi­onship and 55-12-1 sea­son.

“It all starts with coach Casey and his staff,” Lar­nach said. “As soon as we got on cam­pus, they re­ally en­force the men­tal­ity that you need to win a na­tional cham­pi­onship. They en­force it ev­ery sin­gle day. When we went through ad­ver­sity, in­juries, losses, just kept say­ing the same thing. We kept de­vel­op­ing. We kept get­ting bet­ter. We kept win­ning. We fi­nally fin­ished the job.”

An­other deep post­sea­son run is pos­si­ble in 2019.

“There are some re­ally good play­ers that didn’t get to play much this year be­cause we had a class that was older ju­niors,” Casey said.

Ore­gon State ex­pects to re­turn every­day starters in CWS Most Out­stand­ing Player Ad­ley Rutschman at catcher, in­fielder-des­ig­nated hit­ter Tyler Malone, first base­man Zak Taylor and out­fielder Pre­ston Jones. Among pitch­ers ex­pected to come back are starters Abel and Bryce Fehmel and re­liev­ers Chris­tian Cham­ber­lain and Bran­don Eis­ert and closer Jake Mul­hol­land.

“Chris­tian Cham­ber­lain showed you he was 92, 95 the other night in the World Se­ries. He doesn’t even know what he’s do­ing yet. This guy’s go­ing to be elec­tric some­day,” Casey said. “Fehmel didn’t have a good World Se­ries, but he won a lot of games at Ore­gon State in three years. Pre­ston Jones is go­ing to be a good player. Kevin Abel is a Fri­day night guy, no ques­tion about it. Got a chance to be a firstround guy.”

/ AP - Nati Harnik

Ore­gon State coach Pat Casey (right) cel­e­brates along­side pitcher Bryce Fehmel af­ter the Beavers’ cham­pi­onship-clinch­ing win over Ar­kan­sas.

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