Time for Beaver bravado to re-emerge
CORVALLIS What has happened to the Beaver bravado?
To the swagger that, coupled with stellar pitching, solid defense and sufficient offense, carried Oregon State to the nation's No. 1 ranking, the Pac-12 championship and the top seed in the NCAA Tournament?
And, after Saturday night's 14-2 drubbing to Cal Irvine at Goss Stadium -- which sends the Beavers into Sunday's 2 p.m. regional elimination game against Nevada-Las Vegas -- the class that has been displayed through the Pat Casey era was missing, too.
None of the OSU players were made available to the media.
Asked to deliver an opening statement, Casey said, "I don't think there was anything we did in that game that was competitive."
Then he offered terse one-line or one-word responses to a half-dozen questions, including:
What happened on a pair of squeeze plays that scored three runs and gave the Anteaters a 4-0 fifth-inning lead? "We didn't execute, and they did."
How do you feel about your players' mental approach? "I'm not happy."
What can your team do to turn it around on Sunday? "Win."
Nobody could expect Casey to be pleased with the Beavers' belly flop of a performance, but it's important to handle defeat with a certain amount of decorum. That was lacking on the OSU end after Saturday night's game, just as was the home team's competitiveness during it.
Cal Irvine coach Mike Gillespie went out of his way to point out that the numbers on the scoreboard at game's end were misleading.
"The final score makes it look like it was a one-sided deal, but we were all there," Gillespie said. "We all saw it. It was really tough for a long time. the score was not a reflection of how tough the game was."
After Cal Irvine scored the three fifth-inning runs without hitting a ball past the pitcher's mound, Oregon State showed life only once.
Trailing 6-0 in the top of the eighth, the Beavers mounted a rally. After Logan Ice singled and Caleb Hamilton walked, Gillespie pulled starter Elliot Surrey, who yielded only three hits with three walks and eight strikeouts in his seven innings.
On came Irvine closer Sam Moore, who entered the day with a nation-leading 23 saves.
After pinch hitter Michael Howard's ground-out moved the runners to second and third, Jeff Hendrix followed with a two-run single. Suddenly, some folks at Goss other than a small contingent of loud, blue-clad Anteater backers were making noise.
Andy Peterson singled and Michael Conforto walked to load the bases, bringing the potential tying run to the plate in clean-up hitter Dylan Davis. Gillespie yanked Moore and beckoned Mitch Merten, a fifth-year senior with an ERA of 6.65 in 19 appearances.
Merten induced Davis to pop out, then erased Gabe Clark on three called strikes to end the threat.
"What Mitch did with the bases loaded was giant for us," Gillespie said. "That's his single biggest success in arguably the most important game we've played in four years."
The rest of the way was water torture for the Beavers and their fans. Four OSU relievers combined to give up an eight-spot in the bottom of the eighth as the staff with the nation's second-best ERA went out with a whimper.
Starter Jace Fry wasn't bad early, but seemed to lose his composure during the frantic fifth and hit four Irvine batters during his 6 2/3 innings of work. The Pac-12 pitcher of the year gave up six hits and six earned runs in his poorest outing of the season.
"We had a pretty good scouting report on him," said Cal Irvine third baseman Taylor Sparks, who had two hits, including a two-run homer, and scored three runs. "We knew he was going to come after us early. We tried to attack him and not fall behind in the count."
The real issue for Oregon State, though, was the continuing problem with an offense that has produced 11 runs in the last six games. Conforto, the two-time Pac-12 player of the year, went 0 for 3. The junior left-fielder, destined to be a first-round pick in next week's major league draft, is 0 for 7 in the regional and 4 for 31 with no RBIs in his last eight games.
Over much of their eight-game drought, the Beavers (43-13) have looked timid at the plate, taking too many strikes, failing to deliver timely hits. If the moxie doesn't return immediately, their bid to reach the College World Series for the fifth time in 10 years will go swirling down the drain.
The Anteaters were the aggressors Saturday night, using small-ball to score early, then ripping a pair of home runs -- including a grand-slam in the eighth by No. 8 hitter Kris Paulino -- to break the game open.
With the game still in balance, they converted squeeze plays twice in the crucial fifth. The second one came on a bunt by cleanup hitter Jerry McClanahan on a play in which Chris Rabago -- who like Surrey, played for the Corvallis Knights of the Northwest Collegiate League last summer -- raced around from second base after Sparks had already scored from third.
"We had a lot of heroes in this game against a really top-notch team, in their house with a lot of unfriendly people here," Gillespie noted.
No. 3 seed Cal Irvine (37-22) scored 14 runs on only 10 hits a day after beating No. 2 seed UNLV 10-3.
"We haven't scored (a total of) 24 runs in like two years," Gillespie joked afterward.
The Beavers know how it feels. They haven't scored as many as four runs in a game since an 8-4 victory over Portland on May 13.
Casey will send senior Ben Wetzler to the mound against the Rebels. Senior closer Scott Schultz, who has started four games this season, would presumably be the starter if the Beavers win and advance to an 8 p.m. Sunday date with Cal Irvine.
If Oregon State should win that one, it would necessitate an 8 p.m. Monday rematch with the Anteaters for the right to move on the next weekend's super regional.
There's a lot of work to be done for that to happen. The OSU players -- muzzled after the Saturday night debacle -- will have to let their play speak for itself.