It wasn't supposed to end this way for the Oregon State baseball team. The team that so often found ways to win games after suffering a disappointing loss early in a series ran out of magic in the College World Series.
Mississippi State, a 5-4 winner over OSU in the first game in Omaha last Saturday, came back with an even more impressive performance and defeated the Beavers 4-1 Friday afternoon. Oregon State, which needed a victory to force another game against the Bulldogs on Saturday, was the fifth team to be eliminated from the CWS. North Carolina later lost 4-1 to UCLA Friday night to become the sixth team to be sent packing. UCLA and Mississippi State will play a best-of-three-championship series starting Monday night at TD Ameritrade Park.
Freshman All-American Andrew Moore started on the mound for Oregon State and allowed only one hit through the first three innings of a scoreless game. However, Moore gave up three hits and the game's first run in the bottom of the fourth. Then in the fifth, MLB first-round draft pick Hunter Renfroe lined a hanging curveball into the Bulldogs bullpen in left field. His 3-run homer, his 16th of the season, gave Mississippi State a commanding 4-0 lead. Even though Jace Fry came in and allowed only two hits in 3 and 1/3 scoreless innings, the damage had been done.
The Beavers scored their run with two outs in the sixth on an RBI-single by Andy Peterson, but that was all the scoring OSU could muster on a hot, muggy Nebraska afternoon.
Oregon State managed to bring the tying run to the plate with only one out in the top of the ninth, but closer Jonathan Holder entered the game and got Kavin Keyes to line out to left for the second out of the inning. And OSU's season ended when Ryan Barnes bounced into a game-ending forceout at second base. The Beavers finish the year with a record of 52-13.
In postgame comments, Coach Pat Casey and several underclassmen talked about the disappointment they felt, not just for themselves, but for the seniors who had done so much to help the Beavers make a return trip to Omana after a 6-year absence.
As a disappointing day came to an end here in Nebraska, Beaver Nation could at least take pride in another Oregon State player earning top billing during the ESPN SportsCenter's "Play of the Day" segment. OSU left fielder Michael Conforto's grab of Wes Rea's long drive in the second inning was highlighted as the #1 play of the day in sports. Conforto, who also threw out a runner at the plate for the second time in the CWS, sprinted back and crashed into the wall. The ball plunked into Conforto's glove just as the mitt (and Conforto himself) smacked into the wall at full speed. Somehow, Conforto managed to hold on to the ball. It was a tremendous grab, one that people will be talking about for a long time. And, with the way Conforto plays the outfield -- and punishes the baseball with a bat in his hands --- you can expect Conforto to be a very high MLB draft pick after next season.
My takeaway from watching this team very closely in the last few months is that it was a special group that Coach Casey had assembled. The affection the players have for one another was obvious, and the disappointment each player had after the loss to Mississippi State was almost more than some of the players could handle.
Yet, as some of the players pointed out after the game, many of these same Oregon State players will be back next season, and another trip to Omaha is not out of the question.