Monday, June 26, 2006 • Box score
After playing most of the College World Series with its back to the wall, Oregon State ended up Monday night on top of college baseball's dog pile.
The Beavers celebrated their first national baseball championship after pulling out a 3-2 victory over North Carolina, scoring the winning run on an eighth-inning throwing error by Tar Heels second baseman Bryan Steed. The victory, in the decisive game of the best-of-three championship series that drew 18,565 to Rosenblatt Stadium, made Oregon State the first team to win six elimination games in Omaha.
Oregon State followed up an 11-1 clubbing by Miami in its CWS opener with four straight victories that put the Beavers into the championship series. They dropped the opening game 4-3 but came back with an 11-7 must-win on Sunday. Oregon State then became the first team from the Northwest, hardly a region of the country that is considered a baseball hotbed, to take home the championship trophy with Monday's win.
"I don't know why we don't get the credit but all that matters is that in our hearts we know that we can play,'' Oregon State closer Kevin Gunderson said. "There's a lot of talent up there, and we proved this week in Omaha the heart and character and fight that this team has. To come back through the losers' bracket after getting spanked pretty good says something.
"This team is made up of guys mostly from the Northwest, and we proved a lot of people wrong. We're going to try to keep building on this, and this is something we'll cherish the rest of our lives.''
Undoubtedly, Steed's play is one he'll remember the rest of his. The Beavers' eighth-inning rally started innocently with a two-out walk to Bill Rowe. Tyler Graham followed with a flare shot to left field, bringing an end to a strong showing by North Carolina starter Daniel Bard. The Tar Heels brought in AllAmerican Andrew Miller, who got pinch-hitter Ryan Gipson to hit a routine grounder to Steed, who had entered the game as a defensive replacement in the fifth inning.
He fielded the ball cleanly but his throw was up the right-field line. Tim Federowicz, making just his fourth start at first base after seeing most of his action at catcher, lunged for the ball but couldn't get his glove on it. The throw ended up clanging off the wall near where the tarp sits down the right-field line.
"It was a pretty routine ground ball, and I got rid of it quickly because we knew the pinch-hitter was pretty quick,'' Steed said. "I probably got rid of it a little too quickly and it was up the line. Tim got to the bag right as the ball was getting there, and he couldn't make the play.''
North Carolina coach Mike Fox quickly jumped in to defend his junior second baseman but ultimately, it was defensive breakdowns by the Tar Heels that contributed to the back-toback losses that ended their season at 54-15. North Carolina couldn't make several key plays in Sunday's loss, and two of Oregon State's runs Monday scored on errors.
Oregon State's pitching staff, which appeared to be running on fumes heading into Monday's game, also played a key factor in the outcome. Starter Jonah Nickerson, coming back on three days' rest, held the Tar Heels to six hits and two runs in 6 2/3 innings. He didn't get the win, as he did twice in bracket play while throwing on two days' rest, but he did wind up being named the winner of the outstanding player award.
"My arm felt great, and I never really thought about it too much during the game,'' said Nickerson, who threw 21 2/3 innings within the span of eight days. "I was going to give them everything I had. Coach came out to take me out one time, and I told him I could give him a couple more outs.''
After giving up the tying two runs in the fifth, Nickerson pitched out a jam in the sixth and finally yielded to reliever Joe Paterson with two outs in the seventh. Paterson walked Mike Cavasinni to put runners at second and third but Eddie Kunz came on to get Kyle Shelton on an inning-ending grounder to keep the game tied.
Kunz opened the eighth by walking Josh Horton and surrendering a single to Chad Flack. Oregon State coach Pat Casey then called on Dallas Buck, who had pitched 6 1/3 innings in Saturday's loss, for his first relief appearance of the season.
A groundout advanced the runners, and Buck intentionally walked Federowicz to load the bases. The Beavers' All-American came back to blow away Seth Williams on a three-pitch strikeout, and then got Benji Johnson to chase a curveball out of the zone for an inningending strikeout. Horton made an attempt to steal home on the pitch, and he might have been safe had Johnson not struck out.
"We just took a gamble, and I should have done it the pitch before,'' Fox said. "I just told Josh to duck his head and say a prayer. I'm just glad he wasn't hurt on the play.''
The Beavers had taken their 2-0 lead in the fourth when Bard threw away a sacrifice bunt by John Wallace that allowed Tyler Graham to score from second. Wallace moved to second on a sacrifice, and Shea McFeely's single brought him home.
North Carolina made Oregon State sweat out the ninth as Cavasinni singled with one out and Buck walked Kyle Shelton. It was time for one last appearance by Gunderson, the Beavers' gritty little closer who had pitched a season-high 5 1/3 innings Sunday.
He got Horton to hit into a force out -- the Beavers came within a whisker of making it a double play -- before retiring Flack on a fly ball to center field.