West Linn grad hits, fields Beavers to Regional opener win

CORVALLIS - Ryan Barnes is the stuff that good stories are made of.

The sophomore from West Linn was the man of the hour for Oregon State Friday night, the hitting and fielding star in the Beavers' come-from-behind 7-4 victory over Arkansas-Little Rock in the teams' opener of the NCAA Regional at Goss Stadium.

Barnes ripped a single, double and triple and made a catch in right field worthy of top-10-play status on ESPN's SportsCenter as the Beavers (39-17) moved into a 6 p.m. Saturday winner's bracket matchup with Creighton.

As a freshman, Barnes was so far down the depth chart, he drew only four at-bats while appearing in six games. This season, the former Three Rivers League player of the year moved into the starting lineup and has been a key producer for an Oregon State team that was ranked as high as second nationally.

After Friday's victory, Barnes found himself at the podium, telling the media about his postseason debut.

'Having this happen in my first Regionals - this is a dream come true,' Barnes said.

Barnes' parents, Gary and Diane, both attended Oregon State. Ryan Barnes has been a Beaver since he was a little kid.

'It was always my dream to come here,' he said.

But after a terrific career at West Linn High, Barnes didn't find instant gratification at OSU. Converted to catcher, he mostly sat the bench and watched last season.

'I'd never played the outfield or catcher,' Barnes said. 'I'd never really sat (on the bench) before, either.

'It was tough, but I wasn't ready. I had some developing to do. I just kept with it. We have so many good players, only 27 of us can play. You have to wait for your chance and make of it what you can. This year, I came out with a lot more confidence. That was a big part of it.'

Barnes also played outfield all last summer with the Humboldt Crabs of the Sierra League. 'That really helped me prepare for this year,' he said.

Still a reserve at the start of the season, Barnes finally broke into the starting lineup and held his spot, hitting .250 while starting 39 games.

'Ryan is a typical guy in our program who comes in, develops, and becomes a player,' OSU coach Pat Casey said. 'There's not a challenge you can give him that he's not going to give you 100 percent on. That's what I appreciate.

'He doesn't care if I put him in the nine-hole, leftfield, one-hole, rightfield. ... he battles. He can do all the little things. He can hit-and-run, he takes pitches ... he does a nice job for us. '

On Friday, Barnes was in the leadoff spot - barron ground for the Beavers most of the season. He came through when they needed him most, smashing a run-scoring triple to plate their first run in the fifth inning, driving in the go-ahead run with a double in the seventh and adding a single in the ninth.

Barnes' eighth-inning over-the-shoulder catch of Sean Bignall's drive at the warning track in right field preserved an Oregon State lead that was at only 5-4 at the time.

'Coach (Pat) Bailey actually moved me in three or four steps two pitches before, so I guess you can give Bails credit for that,' Barnes deadpanned. 'The wind was blowing out and (the ball) just caught up in the wind. I happened to go out and make the snag.'

For awhile, it appeared as if the unthinkable would happen - top seed Oregon State would lose to a Little Rock team that entered the NCAA Tournament with a 24-32 record. The Trojans, eighth-seeded in the Sun Belt Tournament, had stunned the field by sweeping four straight games and earning the conference's automatic seed.

On Friday night, they plated a pair of runs in the first inning, then added two more in the top of the fifth. The Beavers, meanwhile, kept stringing up zeroes on the scoreboard. Entering the bottom of the fifth, the unsung visitors held a 4-0 lead and all the momentum.

'If you'd told me two nights ago we'd have a 4-0 lead halfway through the game, everybody would have been comfortable in that situation,' Little Rock shortstop Greg Garcia said. 'Then we just felt it unravel right before us.'

The Beavers broke through with Brian Stamps' lead-off double, Barnes' triple and Jared Norris' ground-out that scored Barnes. Those runs snapped OSU's 19-inning scoreless streak and opened the floodgates.

'We just needed that first RBI hit,' Barnes said. 'Hitting is really contagious with us. Once we get one, we just keep them coming.'

The Beavers ended the regular season on a five-game losing streak, costing them the Pac-10 title.

'When you haven't won for a long time, it makes it difficult,' Casey said. 'You're tight, and when you can't get a hit when you need one, which we didn't early, it makes it worse. ... you feel like it's never going to end. I give the players a ton of credit for sticking with it, battling and getting through some tough times.

'There's not one team in the country that doesn't go through a difficult span. We just picked the wrong time. Once you get the win, it breaks that cycle.'

Maybe. Oregon State will have to do it again Saturday night against an excellent Creighton team that beat Georgia 2-1 Friday.

The Beavers are lined up pitching-wise, since Casey used No. 3 starter James Nygren against Little Rock. Casey claimed he made the switch because his first two starters, Sam Gaviglio and Josh Osich, asked for an extra day's rest. I think it was more that Casey felt he could get past Little Rock while using Nygren, saving Gaviglio and Osich for the Saturday and Sunday games.

It would have been a gamble gone bad had the Beavers lost. They'd have lost if they hadn't finally started scoring runs.

'We had to quit playing scared,' OSU third baseman Carter Bell said. 'We needed to loosen up and start being the hunters and not being the hunted.

'We started going on the attack and playing the kind of baseball that Oregon State plays. It's better late than never.'

Boy, is it.

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