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In a back-and-forth game with five lead changes and two ties, ace pitcher Cooper Hjerpe saved the day for Oregon State

PMG PHOTO: RALEIGH EMERSON - Oregon State pitcher Cooper Hjerpe came in to toss the final two innings in relief in the Beavers' 7-6 win over Vanderbilt in the NCAA Baseball Championship on Monday, June 6, at Goss Stadium in Corvallis.

CORVALLIS -- It's one thing to have an ace up your sleeve. It's quite another to have a National Pitcher of the Year contender.

Thanks to a two-inning save from All-American pitcher Cooper Hjerpe, No. 3 Oregon State survived a wild, back-and-forth game against Vanderbilt on Monday, June 6, to win 7-6. With the victory, the Beavers clinch a date at home against No. 14 Auburn in the Super Regional round of the NCAA Baseball Championship.

Oregon State (47-16) waited until the perfect moment to deploy their best pitcher, and the strategy from head coach Mitch Canham worked about as well as it could have. Hjerpe recorded five strikeouts and allowed just one baserunner over the eighth and ninth innings, preserving a 7-6 lead that Oregon State took on Matthew Gretler's solo home run in the bottom of the seventh.

The Beavers jumped out to an early lead between three clean innings from starter Jaren Hunter and a leadoff home run from Justin Boyd in the bottom of the first. Hunter allowed only one baserunner in the first three frames, but after a leadoff walk to start the fourth, Vanderbilt (39-23) got a two-run homer out of Spencer Jones to go up 2-1 in the elimination game. In the bottom of that inning, light-hitting OSU shortstop Kyle Dernedde came up with an RBI single to tie the game.

The Commodores struck back in the next frame on a beautiful piece of baserunning — and some ugly defense. After walking aboard with one out, Vanderbilt center fielder Enrique Bradfield Jr. stole second base cleanly. After Oregon State reliever Ben Ferrer hit the next batter with a pitch, Vanderbilt went for a double steal that worked even better than they could have drawn it up. The Beavers attempted to throw out the runner at second, but the ball caromed off Travis Bazzana's glove — a moment that the speedy Bradfield seized on, as he rounded third and stole home ahead of an errant throw from Dernedde.

But in a whiplash game like this one, that 3-2 lead was not going to be safe for very long.

Oregon State scored four runs in the bottom of the fifth, the biggest inning for either team on the day. The Beavers took the lead on a two-run homer from Jacob Melton, whose bat had been uncharacteristically quiet during the postseason, and then got another two-out, two-RBI base hit out of Dernedde.

PMG PHOTO: RALEIGH EMERSON - Oregon State third baseman Matthew Gretler hit the go-ahead home run in the seventh inning to help the Beavers beat Vanderbilt in the NCAA Baseball Championship on Monday, June 6, at Goss Stadium in Corvallis.In keeping with the theme of the game, Vanderbilt kept the rollercoaster going by scoring two runs in the sixth following a critical two-out error by Dernedde, and then the Commodores tied it up in the top of the seventh with a sacrifice fly. Oregon State provided the next twist in the plot via Gretler's seventh-inning homer to break the 6-6 deadlock.

It seemed as though the teams would continue trading runs in perpetuity — that is, until Cooper Hjerpe came into the game.

Hjerpe struck out the side in the eighth inning to change the complexity of the game, and though he allowed a leadoff walk in the ninth, he got the next batter to ground out. With a runner in scoring position and only one out, Hjerpe buckled down to strike out the final two Vanderbilt hitters for the win. The OSU starter only threw 35 pitches in relief on Monday, so he will be ready to go again in the next series.

Now, after four grueling days of battles, Oregon State can finally take a breath as it prepares for a Super Regional matchup with Auburn. The Tigers have been on an offensive tear so far in the NCAA Baseball Championship, scoring 51 total runs as they went 3-0 in their own regional.

Auburn first baseman Sonny DiChiara is hitting over .400 on the season after collecting nine hits — including his 20th and 21st home runs of the year — and eight RBIs across the three games. Middle infielders Cole Foster and Brody Moore have also been hot in the postseason.

On the flip side, Auburn (40-19) has allowed six runs per game in the tournament so far. That should allow Oregon State's considerable offense some freedom to operate, especially as the Beavers' pitching staff works to hold down the Tigers' potent bite on offense.

The best-of-three Super Regional series will be played between Saturday and Monday, June 11-13, at Goss Stadium.


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