Oregon State needs one more win
CORVALLIS — Oregon State is in the driver's seat, with the finish line just one turn away.
The Beavers smothered Louisiana State with potent hitting, superlative defense and a workmanlike pitching performance by Luke Heimlich en route to a 14-1 victory Saturday night in the Corvallis regional at Goss Stadium.
After triumphs in their first two regional contests, the nation's No. 3-seeded team (46-10-1) is one win from next weekend's super regional, and three wins from making its sixth College World Series appearance since 2005.
Oregon State — ranked No. 1 or 2 in the five national polls — will play the winner of Sunday's noon matchup between LSU (38-26) and Northwestern State (38-23) at 6 p.m. Sunday. A victory advances the Beavers to a super regional next weekend at Goss. A loss would set up a rematch at 7 p.m. Monday, with the winner of that game moving on.
OSU coach Pat Casey, however, wouldn't cave to the idea that the Beavers are in excellent shape to win the regional.
"We're in the same place we were when we started," Casey said. "You have to win the next game."
LSU and Northwestern State do, along with two more. The Beavers don't, though they would much prefer to win Sunday than to extend the issue an extra day.
"This tournament is about the players we coach," Casey said. "You turn it over to them, trust them and let them play."
The Beavers deserved their coaches' trust from the get-go Saturday in front of a stadium-record crowd of 4,009, pouncing on LSU starter Zack Hess for two runs in the first inning courtesy of Adley Rutschman's two-out, two-run double. They added three more in the third inning and broke things open with five runs in the fourth to take a 10-0 lead.
Oregon State let up only after going ahead 14-1 on Steven Kwan's two-run triple in the seventh. OSU's first six hitters combined for 12 hits, and No. 9 hitter Zak Taylor went 3 for 4. The Beavers also walked nine times and were hit twice as they flooded the bases with runners for seven innings.
"That was a rough game for us," LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. "Oregon State had a lot to do with it. (The Beavers) played really well. We had some chances early in the game and didn't take advantage of them. Offensively, we just couldn't cash in, and the game got away from us.
"It was a tough one for us to endure. They just played a lot better than we did tonight. When you play like we did against a team the caliber of Oregon State, you're going to be on the wrong side of a big score."
Heimlich (15-1) established a school record for pitching victories in a season, but wasn't as sharp as he has been through a two-month period in which he was the best pitcher in the country.
"The first thing Luke is going to tell you is he didn't throw well," Casey said. "That's the sign of a real competitor, when you give up only one run."
Heimlich allowed six hits with four walks and only three strikeouts through seven innings, throwing 115 pitches. He was aided by three double plays, including one in each of the first two innings that allowed him to escape trouble.
"I was out of rhythm a little bit," the senior left-hander said. "I didn't find my stuff early on. I'm thankful I have the defense I do. The defense was huge, and it came from all over the diamond all night. Those plays kept picking me up when I didn't have my best stuff."
Casey seconded that notion.
"We defended like crazy tonight," the OSU coach said. "We played with a lot of energy and hit the ball well, but we played lights out defensively."
Hess yielded eight hits and eight earned runs while walking four and striking out six in 3 1/3 innings, throwing 98 pitches.
"I kept falling behind in counts," the 6-6, 220-pound right-hander said. "Oregon State's approach was to be very patient. They got me up in the pitch count.
"They have three guys at the top their order who are going to go in the first two rounds of the draft. When you face that caliber of players and you're not executing pitches or getting ahead, they're going to make you pay for it."
Said Casey: "(Hess) can be dominant. That fastball has life to it. That breaking ball is biting. We talked about getting quality pitches to swing at. Our hitters did a great job."
LSU was the team that knocked Oregon State out of the College World Series last season before falling to Florida in the championship round. If that provided extra motivation for the Beavers, Heimlich and Casey weren't admitting to it.
"It's just another week, another game," Heimlich said. "(The Tigers) were a good opponent. I prepared like like I would for a normal start."
"There's always motivation," Casey said. "They're an unbelievable program. We thought we had a great club last year. They had a great club, too. The motivation from the guys in our locker room was that they got to put on the Oregon State uniform. There's going to be a day when they can't put it on anymore."
Oregon State will go with freshman right-hander Kevin Abel (3-1, 4.13) on Sunday night.
"We want somebody to go out there and compete and command the strike zone," Casey said. "(Abel) has been getting better and better. I have all the confidence in him. He is capable of giving us a really good start."
In speaking of LSU's situation, Mainieri put into words what Casey was thinking.
"We have to win three games in two days to advance," Mainieri said. "(Winning) the first two games of a regional are critical; otherwise, you have to fight your way out of the losers' bracket.
"If we think about what we have to do to come back and win this tournament, it can seem awfully daunting. We told our kids, we'll try to win the first one and then worry about winning Game 2. You have to take on the immediate challenge and not look too far ahead."
For the Beavers, there's a different mind-set.
It's win one more, baby. Sooner better than later.