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BY KERRY EGGERS/PORTLAND TRIBUNE/Bumbling Beavers fall to inspired Bearcats, now must win four in a row

COURTESY PHOTO: MEGAN CONNELLY - Oregon State reliever Joey Mundt watches as Cincinnati rallies late en route to a 7-6 victory Friday night at Goss Stadium on the first day of the NCAA regional round. CORVALLIS — I'm going to let Pat Bailey write my lead as we discuss Oregon State's 7-6 loss to Cincinnati in Friday's opening round of the Corvallis Regional.

"I was really disappointed in our effort defensively," OSU's interim head coach said after the No. 1 seed went from Regional favorite to a Saturday 1 p.m. elimination date with Creighton at Goss Stadium. "(The Bearcats) had 15 hits, but there were maybe five balls that should have been caught that weren't.

"There were outs to get that we didn't get. They got some bloop singles that dropped. There were a couple of balls hit pretty well that, if we took proper angles, we should have caught as well."

I couldn't have described it any better.

OSU's Kyler McMahon looked uncomfortable from the beginning in center field, having trouble judging fly balls. Three or four deep balls he didn't track well and went over his head for doubles or triples.

But OSU's coaches share the blame. The Beavers stationed their corner outfielders — Joe Casey in left and Tyler Malone in right — close to the warning track the majority of the time for all of Cincinnati's hitters, one through nine in the order.

"We weren't playing regular defense," Bailey explained. "The wind was blowing out tonight. There were balls hit in front (of outfielders) that, if we get good jumps, they're caught."

Maybe. But during the Southern Cal series the previous weekend, OSU's corner outfielders were positioned in similar fashion, at times allowing catchable balls to drop for base hits. I'm betting the Beavers will have their outfielders playing more shallow Saturday when they take on Creighton (38-12), a 6-0 loser to Michigan in Friday's other first-round game.

That wasn't the only problem for Oregon State (36-19-1) against Cincinnati, of course. Shortstop Beau Philip — OSU's second-best player behind Adley Rutschman this season — went 0 for 4 at the plate, striking out looking in a three-pitch at-bat with the bases loaded and the Beavers trailing 5-3 in the seventh inning. Philip also made two errors, though one was given to first baseman Zak Taylor on Philip's one-bounce throw after a ground ball in the eighth.

In the sixth, Rutschman and first baseman Ryan Ober failed to communicate on a pop fly in foul ground along the first-base line that fell uncaught. The batter, No. 9 hitter Jeremy Johnson, eventually walked, and the miscue wound up costing the Beavers a run.

The Beavers managed nine hits off four Cincinnati pitchers, including solo home runs by Tyler Malone and Kyler McMahon — the first of the year for both. They battled back from a 5-2 deficit with a four-run seventh to take a 6-5 lead, but couldn't hold it as the Bearcats (31-29) scored single runs in the eighth and ninth to win the biggest game in program history.

That's right, in program history.

"My head's still spinning a little bit," Cincinnati coach Scott Googins said.

Cincinnati's postseason is a true Cinderella story. This is its first Regional appearance since 1954. The Bearcats started the season 1-9 and finished the regular season 26-29, with a collective batting average of .247.

But they busted out for 51 runs in winning four American Athletic Conference postseason tournament games, burying Connecticut 22-5 in the championship game. This from a program that had never won an AAC tourney game, having gone 0-10 the previous five years.

Then the Bearcats came to Corvallis and, before a capacity crowd of 3,824, knocked off the defending College World Series champions on their own stomping grounds. Cincinnati will face Michigan in a 7 p.m. Saturday game.

"What a great environment," said Googins, in his second season as Cincinnati's head coach. "We were excited to be in the Regional here, coming to a place like Oregon State where the fans are so into the game, so knowledgeable, and playing against such high-level competition.

"It's fun to go against a team with the tradition that Oregon State has. I was excited to see how our guys could respond."

The Bearcats continued their hitting rampage Friday night, running OSU starter Bryce Fehmel after five-plus innings. Lead feline was senior right fielder AJ Bumpass, who kicked ass with a 5-for-5 performance at the plate that included a ninth-inning triple to knock in the winning run and a solo homer that chased Fehmel in the first at-bat of the sixth.

"He's hotter than a pistol right now," Bailey said. "We knew he was a guy who could beat us. He hit a 3-2 changeup out. It was a ball up that should have been down. It was a missed-location pitch, and he hit it out."

Bumpass said the Bearcats weren't intimidated coming into the Beaver lair.

"We knew how good OSU was, but we were just playing fearless," he said. "We know what we're capable of. We weren't backing down from anybody. We've got grit, resilience. We play to the last out.

"I was playing with a big chip on my shoulder. I wanted to do something we had never done. We've never been in a regional. I was willing to put it all on the line to make it happen."

Oregon State's four-run seventh featured an almost unprecedented piece of strategy. With Cincinnati leading 5-2, the Beavers loaded the bases with no outs. Then Rutschman — already named National Player of the Year by one publication and a good bet to go No. 1 in Monday's major-league draft — was intentionally walked.

Googins said before the tournament, he had spoken with coaches of other programs about Rutschman and gone over potential scenarios where it might be wise to intentionally walk OSU's junior catcher. Friday's seventh, as it turned out, was one of them.

"I said, 'Let's put him on,'" Googins said. "My assistants tried to talk me out of it. But Oregon State was making a run at us. You put that guy at the plate, and who knows (what might happen)? I was willing to give up a run. We weren't going to get beat by the best player in the nation."

It turned out to be four runs. After Philip struck out, senior first baseman Zak Taylor — a seventh-inning defensive replacement who came into the game hitting .119 — laced a two-run single to left field to tie the score at 5-5. With two out and runners on first and second, second baseman Andy Armstrong — who went 3 for 4 — singled to right, scoring Rutschman from second for the go-ahead run.

"Thank you very much," Bailey said of the move to walk Rutschman, something the coach had seen only once in his lifetime — to San Francisco slugger Barry Bonds in a major league game. "There were no outs at the time. A big risk."

With a 6-5 lead and fans humming their approval, the Beavers brought on freshman Joey Mundt to pitch the eighth. He promptly hit the first batter, Mason DeAnna, on a 1-2 count. Cincinnati wound up scoring an unearned run to tie the game at 6-6, then got the winning run in the top of the ninth off OSU closer Jake Mulholland on Bumpass' run-scoring triple.

"I'm not saying (the intentional walk to Rutschman) was the best thing," Googins said, "but it worked out."

Would he change his tactic if he had a do-over?

"I don't think so," the Cincinnati coach said. "(The Beavers) scored only four runs."

Say what?

"You just don't know," Googins said. "If he gets a hit in that situation, it brings energy in the crowd. Maybe The move distracted (the Beavers) enough. They're thinking, 'What's with this guy? He's crazy.'

"But if (Rutschman) gets a double or a home run, this place erupts. We were going to take our chances. I'd do it again."

The Beavers got the lead, but the Bearcats snatched it back.

"It would have been tough to lose and have to play that 1 p.m. game (Saturday), the way we would have lost this game," Googins said.

Now Oregon State faces that challenge, being forced to battle through the losers' bracket to advance to a Super Regional. That means winning four in a row — once Saturday, twice Sunday and once Monday night — to keep the season alive.

Junior right-hander Grant Gambrell (5-2, 2.74) will start Saturday against Creighton.

"We have to flush this game, focus on how we can get better and figure out how we're going to win," Rutschman said.

Saturday "is a new day," Armstrong said. "Now it's do or die for us. We have to show up."

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@kerryeggers


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