College : : Story
Thursday, June 28, 2018

Eager Beavers win it all

Nick Herfordt        
Photo: (Oregon State Athletics)

Opportunistic Hogs take Game 1 | CWS Finals Game 2 Recap
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 Game 2 of the 2018 College World Series Championship Series a sky-high ball that could have been caught by one of three players in foul territory fell aimlessly to the earth. Had the ball been caught the Arkansas Razorbacks would have won their first national title in school history. Instead, Oregon State was given a second life. The Beavers rallied and forced a winner-take-all matchup to determine who’d leave Omaha as the national champion.

That game took place Thursday night in Omaha, and when the final out was made it didn’t seem so much that fate frowned upon the Razorbacks so much as it did shine on Oregon State as they beat Arkansas 5-0 to win the 2018 College World Series.

While the biggest story of the game eventually turned to the performance of starter Kevin Abel, the scoring in the pivotal game started early, with Oregon State jumping out to a quick lead in the bottom of the first.

Nick Madrigal, the recently-minted first found round draft pick (fourth overall) by the White Sox, led off the game. He had been hitless in the first two games of the series (0-for-8) and his misfortune continued as he grounded to short. Cadyn Grenier, another first round draft selection (37th overall by the Orioles), battled Arkansas starter Isaiah Campbell to a full count before he was beaned in the back to earn a painful trip to first. Rounding out the trio of OSU first round picks, Trevor Larnach (Twins, 20th overall) – whose home run earned OSU the win in Game 2 – rapped a ball between first and second to send Grenier to third and put runners on the corners.

Adley Rutschman, who would ultimately earn College World Series Most Outstanding Player honors at the conclusion of the game, drove the second offering he saw through the left side to plate the first run of the game. Not only did the knock give the Beavers an early 1-0 lead, but it was a significant personal milestone as it was Rutschman’s 100th hit of the season.

After a fielder’s choice moved both runners into scoring position, Michael Gretler punched a ball along the infield dirt. The ball was brilliantly backhanded by third baseman Casey Martin, but he was forced to throw across the diamond from foul territory. The throw pulled the first baseman off the bag and the runners were safe all around. Larnach’s crossing of the plate doubled OSU’s early lead to 2-0.

Oregon State increased their lead in the third. The leadoff hitter, Grenier, was issued a walk on four straight pitches. The free pass led to a pitching change as Arkansas made a change on mound, bringing in Jake Reindl, but the relentless Oregon State attack remained the same.

Grenier stole second and Larnach walked to continue the pressure. Up to the plate came Rutschman, again, with another run-scoring opportunity. He stroked his 16th hit of the CWS to left and earned his 13th RBI in Omaha to increase the lead to three. Fortunately for the Arkansas faithful, Reindl would be able to end the inning without additional damage to keep the Razorback in the game, but Oregon State now led 3-0.

Oregon State’s lead was padded in the fifth with another resilient Beaver attack. Following a Larnach strikeout, Rutschman yet again continued his dominance with a single to center field. After designated hitter Tyler Malone walked, a wild pitch moved each of the runners into scoring position.

Michael Gretler delivered a fly ball just deep enough to right that allowed Rutschman to beat the throw home and increase the lead to 4-0.

In the bottom of the eighth the increasingly insurmountable Oregon State lead was increased to five. Gretler earned a walk and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Preston Jones, who had entered the game as a defensive replacement in the sixth. Left fielder Kyle Nobach grounded to second base to move his teammate another 90 feet closer to home. Zak Taylor, whose walk started the late rally the previous night, delivered a timely single to right to bring in Gretler.

While the Beavers didn’t score in bunches as they proved to do all season, their unrelenting attack accumulating runs did wonders for the offense.

“To keep those one-run innings, keep them going throughout the game, I think that was big,” Rutschman admitted after the game. “Especially that last one at the end. Huge. Huge AB by Zak Taylor.”

It was an incredible team effort all around the lineup to manufacture the runs, but the unequivocal story of the night was that of freshman pitcher Kevin Abel.

Abel had thrown an inning the previous night, tossing 23 pitches as he struck out the side in the eighth. It was his task to eat up as many innings as possible and keep the game close. Anything beyond five innings would realistically be a blessing for head coach Pat Casey. Instead, Abel tossed a complete game shutout.

“My job was to go as far as I could, whether it was three innings, four innings, five innings, didn't matter.” Abel stated after the game. “Just go out there and make pitches and get as many outs as I could and hand it over to the next guy.”

Head coach Pat Casey admitted afterwards that his initial intention wasn’t even to have Abel start. His initial plan was to put together a piecemeal arsenal of arms to throw the first few innings and then have Abel enter the game.

“If we're going to get him for five, let's make it the first five, and then we can piece it together,” Casey recollected. “I never would have dreamed that he was going to go nine innings.”

What Abel did was throw one of the most memorable and dominating games in College World Series history.

After escaping a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the second inning, Abel dialed it up to 11 and was 100 percent dominant. He retired that last 20 batters he faced, striking out five of the final eight batters he faced and only allowed two balls to reach the outfield after the fourth frame, both of which were lazy pop ups. In total he only allowed a pair of hits and two walks finishing with 10 strikeouts despite throwing against one of the most powerful hitting teams in the nation.

“Kevin Abel locked them up,” Casey gleamed. “He absolutely locked them up. He says his breaking ball wasn't working. He threw a couple of breaking balls that were filthy. But his change is the second pitch and it has so much movement on it. I think that's why he feels so good … I just let it ride, and he took it home.”

While Rutschman was named the series’ Most Outstanding Player, the award could have easily been bestowed on Abel. Nine of 10 occasions when a player puts up numbers like Abel did in Omaha – he established a new CWS record with four wins – they’ll receive the honor. Had the voting not been due before the seventh inning, Abel may have usurped the honor.

Casey summed the Omaha experience and his team’s championship success brilliantly in the postgame conference.

“I will tell you is that the guys in the Oregon State locker room allowed myself and our coaching staff to push them to the limit many, many times, create an expectation that their successes would go beyond the baseball field and then go on in life and they'd create a brotherhood and a love for one another that wouldn't be broke.

“They say that wise men plant trees that the shade you'll never see. These guys leave a legacy for the next guys that come in. And I told them today, I said: ‘This is the last time we'll ever put this uniform on together as a team. So when you hang it up, you make sure the guy who wears that number next time knows who you are. Love these guys.’”

Copyright 1994-2019 by Perfect Game. All rights reserved. No portion of this information may be reprinted or reproduced without the written consent of Perfect Game.