College : : Story
Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Beavers re-capture Omaha magic

Nick Herfordt        
Photo: Trevor Larnach (Oregon State Athletics)

Opportunistic Hogs take Game 1
2018 CWS Recaps: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 | Day 8
2018 Honors: Vaughn leads '18 college awards | College All-Americans | Freshmen All-Americans

OMAHA, Neb. – In the storied history of the College World Series few contests had the atmosphere and excitement of the game played Wednesday in Omaha. With the national championship at stake Oregon State and Arkansas treated baseball fans to a matchup that had three lead changes, multiple momentum changing home runs, defensive gems and miscues and ultimately, a to-be-continued cliff-hanger of an ending which set ups for a final winner-take-all finale.

After a scoreless first, the scoring started in the bottom of the second.

Following a strikeout to start the inning, Arkansas senior second baseman Carson Shaddy singled to left field. He was philanthropically sent to second via a questionable call that went against the Beavers as Jared Gates was awarded first via a contentious hit-by-pitch call by home plate umpire Jeff Henrichs. Henrichs’ perception was that the ball had struck Gates’ leg. However, replays showed that actual contact was unlikely and infinitesimal at best. While video replay is utilized at the College World Series, the confirmation of an HBP is not one of its prescribed uses, with that, the call stood. The Razorbacks had men on first and second with one out.

After what seemingly was a dozen tosses back to second to keep Shaddy from straying too far from the base, another out was made at third via a fielder’s choice. In the scorebook it went down as a simple unassisted play by third baseman Michael Gretler, but in reality, his sprawling stop likely saved a run.

Now with two outs shortstop Jax Biggers was brought to the plate. The lefty hitter earned a full-count walk to fill the bases.

Bryce Fehmel’s next pitch drilled the infield dirt and bounded behind the catcher. The errant pitch put Arkansas on the board for the game’s first run. A walk would re-load the bases as well as feverishly start action on the Beaver bullpen, however, Fehmel would induce a simple fly out to end the inning and escape further damage.

The Razorbacks would hold on to their slim 1-0 lead unit the fourth when the Beavers finally got on the board. Switch-hitting sophomore catcher Adley Rutschman, a former Beaver football placekicker, walloped a no-doubt solo home run into the Arkansas bullpen to tie the game.

Oregon State would take their first lead in the top of the fifth.

After a leadoff popup, Zak Taylor earned a base hit that ricocheted off the outstretched mitt of a diving Casey Martin at third. Preston Jones, a late addition to the lineup due to the the aggravating injury sustained by Steven Kwan earlier in the series, next laid down an immaculate bunt whose purpose seemingly was simply to advance the runner into scoring position. Nonetheless, Jones’ bunt stuck to the grass like velcro between the pitcher and catcher and he was able to raced to first for an infield hit.

Jake Reindl was brought in to relieve Arkansas starter Kacey Murphy and extinguish the smoldering rally, but he only fanned the flames.  The reliever threw four straight balls to Nick Madrigal, none of which were in the neighborhood of the strike zone, to load the bases.

That brought up shortstop Cadyn Grenier. Grenier surprisingly executed a flawless bunt to the chagrin of the Razorback infield, as the soft roller hugged the third baseline as tight as a toddler embraces their favorite teddy bear. The Beavers took the lead and Grenier was safe at first.

Kole Ramage entered the game in relief and managed to baffle Trevor Larnach into a strikeout. A feeble bouncer to first to ended the inning.

However, the Razorbacks would retake the lead in the bottom of the frame.

After a ground out to start the inning, the ‘Hogs leading hitter, freshman Casey Martin, scorched a single just to the left of the second baseman. Next, an arching fly ball off the bat off of Heston Kjerstad fell just inside the left field line and in-between the racing left fielder and third baseman.  The ball landed with such precision between the fielders it was as if NASA had calculated the trajectory. The next batter, Luke Bonfield, hit another blooper with similar precision that fell in left center. Third base coach Nate Thompson sent Martin home from second with no hesitation to tie the game, 2-2.

A fielder’s choice earned Oregon State an out, but advanced Kjerstad to third.  A Carson Shaddy single reclaimed the lead for the Razorbacks before a long fly ended the inning. Arkansas finished the fifth with a slim 3-2 lead. That score would remain the same entering the final inning.

In the ninth the Beavers needed a run to keep their championship hopes alive. After driving a pair of balls deep, but foul down the left field line, first baseman Zak Taylor battled his way to a base-on-balls. He was promptly replaced by freshman Zach Clayton as a pinch runner. Meanwhile, Andy Armstrong entered the game as a pinch hitter with the solitary task to move Clayton into scoring position, an assignment he performed perfectly with a textbook sacrifice bunt.

There was much optimism for Beaver faithful as Nick Madrigal, the fourth overall pick in the MLB draft but who had been 0-for-7 against Arkansas pitching, came to the plate. He drew a full count and hacked a ball foul before settling into the batter’s box. He fisted the ball down the first base line which effectively acted like a second sacrifice bunt to move Clayton 90 feet from tying the game.

Down to their last out Grenier took the first pitch he saw down the middle for strike one. He watched another outside to even the count. Then came the moment which will go down in College World Series history along with Warren Morris’ walk-off home run in 1996, Wichita State center fielder Jim Audley’s game-saving throw against Creighton in 1991 and Coastal Carolina’s Anthony Marks’ run-saving defensive play in the 2016 title game.

Grenier hit a sky-high ball that could’ve been caught by one of three players in foul territory behind first base. However, in a twist of fate the ball bounced harmlessly to the ground between them to continue the at-bat. A high pitch drew the count even again at 2-2. Grenier was then able to place a bouncing ball, run-scoring base hit between third and short to tie the game and create pandemonium in the Beaver dugout.

“Pretty much as soon as you see the ball drop, you have another life,” Grenier stated after the game. “And really all I thought was I just need to refocus and make the most of that extra life that we got when that ball did drop. And that's all you can do. You take it as this was – that's a gift. And it's a new life. And do what you can with it.”

Larnach, the Beavers’ home run leader, was the next batter. After watching a pair of pitches miss the strike zone, he mashed his 19th blast of the season over the right field wall.

“I was going up there looking for the fastball,” Larnach explained later. “I saw he threw a couple of breakers, I don't know if they hit the zone or if they were just there, but I saw majority of fastballs, so I was ready for it.”

The Beavers, who had been down to their last strike and had been given second-life thanks to Arkansas’ fielders not being able to corral a foul ball, retook the lead 5-3, and went on to win the game.

“It was a tough loss. What do you do?” Arkansas Head Coach Dave Van Horn lamented in the post game press conference. “You got a chance to play for a national championship going down the last day. Just gotta fight through it.”

With the victory, it sets up a winner-take-all showdown Thursday night between the two teams. Oregon State will be looking to win their third national baseball title in school history while Arkansas will be playing to earn their first championship.

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