Botched up pop-up in foul territory in the ninth kept the Razorbacks from winning and the Beavers still in business as they rallied for a stunning 5-3 victory
By Arnie Leshin
It looked so easy. The Arkansas crowd was rocking, standing with excitement. Seconds later, things reversed. The Razorback fans were stunned and the Oregon State faithful breathed a collective sigh of relief.
It was the top of the ninth in game 2 Wednesday of the NCAA Baseball World Series. It was two out, none on, and the Hogs were one out away from their first national baseball championship.
Then junior Zak Taylor lifted a high pop–up in foul territory behind first base and the stands. In rushed three fielders, first basemen Jared Gates, right fielder Eric Cole, and second baseman Carson Shaddy, two seniors and a junior with experience.
Apparently none of them called for it. Gates appeared to park under it when in sped Shaddy, who hustled past Gates and overran the ball. No one even touched it, it fell, and Oregon State was going to get another chance.
And with the count at 1-2 and one more strike to call it a game, Taylor leaned into a fastball from southpaw Matt Cronin and singled to right.
The Beaver fans, packed in with an announced crowd of 25,352 at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb., were standing, shouting, cheering, when in stepped junior Trevor Larnach to clout a 2-0 pitch into the seats in right field and put Oregon State on top 4-3. The next hitter, junior Cadyn Grenier, went after the first pitch and hit it to the same place and it was 5-3.
Disappointed turned to joy for the Beavers (54-11-1), who had lost game one 4-1 and were on the brink of watching Arkansas, in the CWS for the first time since 1979 (played at Rosenblatt Field), pile on the mound and hoist the championship trophy that they had won in 2006 and 2007.
Not so, the 5-3 lead stood as the Razorbacks (47-20) left one on in the bottom of the ninth and it was now a game three Thursday night to decide the winner.
“We no doubt got a break there,” said a relieved Oregon State head coach Pat Casey, “and it kept us from heading home Thursday morning.”
Now the momentum switches to the Pac-12 Beavers. Now they avoided a fifth and final elimination after coming up from the loser’s bracket.
“I don’t know what happened, said Hogs’ head coach Dave Van Horn, “all I saw was three players going for the ball, and then it dropped to the ground. Before that, our fans were celebrating when the pop fly was hit. Then we had two strikes on the batter with two out.”
For the second time, the Beavers outhit the SEC Razorbacks, 12-7, and in game one it was 9-5. But none of this mattered if that final out was made.
Arkansas, which had won nine straight, took a 1-0 lead in the second as Shaddy scored from second on a hit just inside the foul line in left by junior Jax Biggers,
After Oregon State scored once each in the fourth and fifth frames to go in front 2-1, back came the Razorbacks in the fifth, when on second base with two out, freshman Casey Martin sped home when a fly ball from sophomore Dominic Fletcher dropped in front of three outfielders.
That tied the score at 2-2, and when freshman Heston Kjerstad doubled down the right field line, in came Fletcher for a 3-2 lead.
But in the Beavers’ ninth, after they put the first two hitters on base with one out, Cronin, who had run into control problems, was taken out. In came sophomore Angus Denton, who retired the next batter on a pop–up to Shaddy.
It now took a perfectly layed-down surprise bunt from sophomore Preston Jones that he easily beat out. Then came the 2-run shot from Larnach and Oregon State now had a 4-3 lead that increased when Grenier lined the first pitch over the fence in right. Just like that, it became a change in momentum.
Now who starts on the hill tonight?
Arkansas already announced it would go with 6-foot-4 right-handed sophomore Isaiah Campbell, who pitched six solid innings in his start against now dethroned champion Florida. Oregon Statehad intended to start 6-foot freshman Kevin Abel, but he came out of the bullpen to work the seventh and eighth frames, and it could now be 5-10 freshman left-hander Christian Chamberlain, who worked two splendid innings in game one.
In this must win, the Beavers started 6-1 junior righty Bryce Fehmel, but he was gone after four innings and his bullpen fared well. For the Razorbacks, it was 6-foot junior Kacey Murphy, and he had his fastball in gear before running into control trouble in the fifth. Without his usual command, he left in the seventh for Matt Cronin.
A super CWS it has been. A packed ballpark each night, some excellent fielding, key hits, and quality pitching. But you can’t forget that pop-up and no doubt both teams will always remember it.
The weather forecast calls for a high of 96 degrees and partly clouded skies, but at the scheduled 5 p.m. (mountain time), temperatures will drop about 16 degrees.