OSU baseball: the team to beat in Omaha?
CORVALLIS — Oregon State is Omaha-bound, headed for its fifth College World Series appearance in the past 13 years.
The Beavers finished off the 2006 and '07 seasons with national championships, and this year's team hasn't accomplished that yet.
But no matter how this year's Beavers finish the season, consider some perspective on what has already been achieved.
Oregon State finished the regular season 49-4, the best such record among the nation's Division I teams in 35 years.
The 1982 Texas Longhorns opened the season 33-0 and ended the regular season and Southwest Conference Tournament schedule 53-4. But those were in the days when teams regularly played lower-division outfits. Among Texas' opponents that season were Midwestern, Texas Lutheran, Lubbock Christian, Hardin-Simmons and Emporia State. The Longhorns lost twice at the College World Series and finished with a 59-6 record.
The Beavers played only Division I foes this season.
"It's a tribute to our guys, coming every day ready to play," OSU coach Pat Casey says. "That's very difficult to do. Scholarship limitations dictate parity. You don't play any non-Division I games anymore. It's truly impressive these guys can sustain focus and this level of play from Feb. 17 to June 10."
Oregon State goes to Omaha with a 54-4 record, best in the 116-year history of the program. The Beavers have gone 5-0 in the postseason, rolling over the opposition by an aggregate score of 43-9. It's been the most dominant OSU team ever in the postseason, by a lot.
Included in that were a pair of Super Regional victories over Vanderbilt, a storied program that won the national championship in 2014 and finished as runner-up in 2015.
"After playing (the Beavers) twice, I have a pretty good understanding of what they've done," Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin says. "To go through a schedule like that and a regional and a Super Regional, they're very deserving of being in Omaha. When we won (in 2014), I wouldn't have said in the regional that we were a national championship team. Our energy came together and we played well.
"What they've done … doesn't happen all the time. They're putting up number that are tough to come by. It's fascinating to watch."
Corbin sounds as if he thinks the Beavers are the team to beat in Omaha.
"They just keep coming," he says. "They're very motivated right now. The makeup of their team is very good. They have a lot of parts. They're tough to stop."
Some of the motivation comes from the slight of last season, when Oregon State was left out of the NCAA tournament despite a 35-19 record and a third-place finish in the Pac-12.
"Our guys have been on a mission," Casey says. "I told the guys before the season, 'You want to remember your Mom? Men on a Mission — that's what MOM stands for.'
"Our mission was to get to Omaha. It wasn't to show the NCAA anything. But the guys had a passion to work. They've showed it every day since the end of last season."
Casey credits co-captains Nick Madrigal and Drew Rasmussen as team leaders, and says it extends even beyond that.
"The leadership within that locker room is phenomenal," the OSU coach says. "Some guys are quiet; some guys are more vocal. Drew took that pitching staff under his wing when he couldn't throw (through the early season) and said, 'We're going to do it right.' And they have."
Madrigal was the Pac-12 Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year. Luke Heimlich was Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year, owning the nation's best ERA. And there was help all around from the deepest group of position players Casey has employed in his 23 years at the helm.
"To have a freshman catcher like Adley Rutschman and a center fielder like Steven Kwan … look at the jump Cadyn Grenier has made," Casey says. "It's a statement to what our guys believe in. You don't need to have a bunch of at-bats for me to put you in a game. Just be ready to go. I trust every one of you.
"There's no ego on this team. Nick could probably play shortstop on any team in the country. The only reason he's playing second base is because Cadyn has never played second. Nick is doing what is best for the team. So are all of our guys."
Casey has used nearly every position player on his active roster in the postseason.
"This team is selfless," he says. "They don't care who plays. They don't care where they hit in the order. I trust all the players. I don't know if we've ever had as many players capable of helping us. We used the same lineup every day with the '06 team."
The Beavers will go to Omaha without the services of Heimlich, removed from the team before the Super Regional after OregonLive's revelation last Thursday that he was convicted of sexual abuse of a minor when he was 15 years old.
"People may think now we don't need Luke, who is one of the best pitchers in the country," Casey says. "The Super Regional was two games. There are a tremendous amount of games to play back there in Omaha."
But Casey's projected starting rotation looks much better after the come-through performance of Bryce Fehmel in last Saturday's deciding win over Vanderbilt. Pitching coach Nate Yeskie will have junior Jake Thompson (14-0), Fehmel (5-2) and sophomore Rasmussen (3-0) at his disposal in Omaha.
Rasmussen, who came back after March 2016 Tommy John elbow surgery late this season, struggled in a regional game against Yale from a hematoma to his pitching arm after taking a line drive in a game against Abilene Christian. Rasmussen has now recovered.
"We were going to roll him out there if we needed him (during the Super Regional)," Yeskie says. "He's ready to go."
Casey thinks the Beavers are, too. He likes his team's chances at spacious TD Ameritrade Park.
"All eight teams have a chance to win it," he says. "We're one of the eight. I guarantee you one thing. There are a lot of people who think we should win it because of our record. But you have to play your hand right.
"You have to know what you're doing with your personnel. The things you have to do to win in that ballpark — defend, pitch well and minimize extra bases — we do pretty well."
There is one thing left for this Oregon State team to accomplish. What's already in the books, though, has made this a season for the ages.