Can Beavers continue to play super baseball?
CORVALLIS — Taking a look at all the angles from Oregon State's resounding sweep of the Corvallis regional and the task ahead in the super regional against Minnesota at Goss Stadium ...
• To say the Beavers were dominant in beating Northwestern State and Louisiana State twice almost doesn't do them justice. The Orangemen outscored the opposition by a staggering count of 35-4, including 26-1 against LSU after 14-1 and 12-0 routs.
This wasn't a vintage LSU team, one that was without starting pitchers Ma'Khail Hilliard and AJ Labas due to injury. The Tigers (39-27) were on the rebuild, losing several starters from their 2017 team that knocked Oregon State from the College World Series and finished second to Florida. Their staff was depleted by Sunday night after a 9-5 win over Northwestern State in an elimination game earlier in the day.
So maybe it wasn't surprising that the Beaver hitters battered LSU pitchers for 26 runs, 29 hits, 13 walks and four hit-by-pitch in the two games.
Even so, this Oregon State team (47-10-1) is one of the best-hitting teams in the country, boasting a .319 average and .416 on-base percentage, with 57 home runs.
"The offense has been doing a pretty good job all year long," said junior second baseman Nick Madrigal, who busted out of an 0-for-17 slump by going 7 for 14 and earning the regional's Most Outstanding Player award. "We feel confident from top to bottom of the order. It was a good weekend for us."
From one to nine, it's the best hitting lineup in coach Pat Casey's 24 years at Oregon State. It doesn't boast the pitching depth of the 2006 or '07 national championship clubs, but there's not an easy out in the order. No. 9 hitter Zak Taylor, a sophomore first baseman, went 5 for 12 with a home run and five RBIs in the tournament. The Beavers hit .367 against LSU pitching in the two games.
• LSU opened Sunday night's game with Devin Fontenot on the mound. He had started only one game all season and had thrown 48 pitches in Friday's 6-4 win over San Diego State. Fontenot tossed up 46 pitches and yielded three runs in the first inning as the Beavers batted around.
"We knew they were up against it with arms," Casey said. "We wanted to get the starter in a deep pitch count in the first inning."
• The best news on the Oregon State side from the weekend was the breakout performance of freshman right-hander Kevin Abel, who threw eight innings of three-hit ball in OSU's shutout of the Tigers on Sunday.
Abel was better than that, really. LSU's only base runner through 7 2/3 innings was Brandt Broussard, who reached first base on what amounted to a swinging bunt in the third inning.
It appeared the ball hit Broussard's bat twice on the swing, which would have amounted to a foul ball. First-base umpire Tim Cordill raised his arms in an apparent gesture of dead ball, but after a discussion with the four arbiters, home plate ump Doug Williams allowed it to go for an infield single. Casey went out briefly to question the call, but it stood.
"By rule, even if (Cordill) is wrong, it's a dead ball, and (Broussard) goes back and hits," Casey said.
After that, Abel was perfect until pinch-hitter Beau Jordan drilled an 0-2 fastball into right field for a single with two out in the eighth.
Casey and pitching coach Nate Yeskie sent Abel out for the ninth inning to face Zach Watson, who laced a single to left-field. Yeskie liked the matchup. But more than that, he wanted to give Abel the chance to enjoy a standing ovation from the crowd of 3,915, who shook the stadium with thunderous applause as the 6-1, 180-pound San Diego native left the mound for the Beaver dugout.
"We told him (before the inning), 'You have one more hitter,'" Yeskie said. "It was good for him to see what our fans think of our program and our players, to absorb that. It was a good moment for him, even though he gave up the base hit."
Abel walked only one with eight strikeouts and a season-high 115 pitches, keeping LSU hitters off-balance with a brilliant blend of fastballs, curves and changeups.
"We stayed fastball aggressive," Yeskie said. "He has a good feel for his changeup. He had a pretty good feel for the breaking ball tonight, too, especially when he wanted to hammer a guy late with it. He was from 89 to 93 (mph) with his fastball, which is typical for him."
Abel's longest stint of the season had been 5 2/3 innings against Washington State in May 6. He has struggled with his control through the season, but in his fifth career start, he was spot-on against the Tigers.
"He went out there like a man," Casey said. "I told him afterward, 'That's a man's start.'
"Kevin has grown up. He has worked hard to believe in himself. To have any real success, you have to take some risk, get on the edge and have some failure. He had been a little bit hesitant to not do well. Once he understood that's not fatal, he made some unbelieveable adjustments as far as how to believe in himself."
"It was about fixing up the mental game, staying within myself and knowing I have the best defense in the country behind me," Abel said. "I used that tonight — especially (center fielder Steven) Kwan."
How much has he grown through the season?
"A lot," Abel said. "Mentally, for sure. Nothing has changed physically. I'm not throwing any differently. I'm not throwing eight miles an hour harder. It's been all up here," he said, pointing to his head.
OSU coaches have been looking for consistency from a third starter all season. Perhaps Abel has finally gotten there. Yeskie said he noticed something different about him before the game.
"When I watched him warm up, it was the same as far as what he was throwing with his stuff, but he was more conversational," the ninth-year OSU pitching coach said. "He was very relaxed. It wasn't fake. I thought, 'Boy, he's in a good place right now.'"
Madrigal saw something new, too.
"Before the game, I went up to him and looked him in the eyes," Madrigal said. "He looked completely calm. That's something I haven't seen from him for a while. He was in the moment. He wanted it.
"That's one of the best (pitching) performances I've ever played behind. It was a big-time game. Give Kevin a lot of credit. I've always known he could do that. Coach Yeskie called a great game, kept the hitters off-balance, and Kevin executed."
"Tonight was a huge step forward in Kevin's development," Yeskie said. "We just want him to be himself. We'll take that. More often than not, we'll be in good shape. He has a bright future. His stuff is only going to continue to get better as he establishes consistency with himself.
"If you'd have said he was going to give you seven shutout innings, we'd have taken it. If he gives you eight, that's pretty impressive."
• The Goss Stadium crowd was as jacked up as it has been all season in the two LSU games. Part of that was inspired by a small contingent of Tiger supporters who raised a pretty good ruckus before Saturday's game. That seemed to light a fire in the Beaver partisans, who took pleasure in drowning out "L-S-U!' chants with "O-S-U!"
Through the two games against the Tigers, the Goss throng was loud and proud.
"It was a lot of fun playing in front of that crowd," Abel said. "It's an experience a lot of people should get to do."
• LSU coach Paul Mainieri admitted the Tigers were simply overmatched.
"(The Beavers) have a great ballclub," he said. "No weaknesses. A veteran team, a very talented team, well-coached. They have a much better team than we do this year. They beat us fair and square. I wish we'd have been a little more competitive, but they deserved it.
We just got beat by a superior team out here."
Mainieri was asked how Oregon State stacks up with the best teams in the country.
"I put them right up there with Ole Miss and Arkansas and Florida, the teams that look to be the cream of the crop in (the Southeastern Conference)," he said. "We just didn't have it in us against that team. They just totally outplayed us."
• Oregon State's players downplayed the revenge angle against LSU through the weekend. As he dressed in the coaches' locker room afterward, Casey was more revealing. Given the chance to play either Louisiana State or Northwestern State in Sunday's game, "I wanted to play LSU," he said.
"(The Tigers) eliminated us last year," Casey explained. "It was the challenge of getting to eliminate them, and the fact that we want to play the best. Northwestern State doesn't have near the talent LSU has, but my confidence in what we could do was way more important.
"I wanted to play LSU. I wanted to take them on. I give (the Tigers) a lot of credit for eliminating us last year. They enjoyed that. I enjoyed this tonight. That's the way it should be."
• Now the Beavers — ranked No. 1 or 2 in the national polls and carrying the No. 3 national seed — play host to No. 14 seed Minnesota (44-13) in a best-of-three super regional.
The Gophers swept through the Minneapolis bracket, 3-0, beating UCLA 3-2 in 10 innings and 13-8, to claim their first regional title since 1977. That's the last time they made it to the College World Series.
Junior shortstop Terrin Vavra, the Most Outstanding Player of the Minneapolis Regional, is batting .393 with 10 home runs, 59 RBIs, 54 runs scored and a .463 on-base percentage. Junior outfielder Ben Mezzenga hits .378 with a .465 on-base percentage.
The pitching staff is led by 6-6, 190 freshman right-hander Patrick Fredrickson (9-0 with a 1.76 ERA and .200 opponents' batting average) and 6-4, 210 junior right-hander Reggie Meyer (8-3, 2.62).
The Corvallis super regional will feature a matchup of veteran coaches. John Anderson, who was a student assistant on the 1977 Minnesota team, has a record of 1,287-858-3 in his 37 years as the Gophers head coach. Casey is 892-456-6 in his 24 years at OSU and 1,063-570-7 in 31 seasons as a college skipper.