A PERFECT FINISH!
OSU claims national title; Beavers win finale 3-2
OMAHA, Neb. - There will be no encore for Jonah Nickerson, Dallas Buck and Kevin Gunderson, but what a final act.
Oregon State's amazing pitching trio added a final exclamation mark to a remarkable career, joining forces to lead the Beavers past North Carolina 3-2 Monday night in the deciding game of the College World Series at Rosenblatt Stadium.
The victory secured the second NCAA championship in Oregon State history. The 1961 men's cross country team was first.
'We proved this week in Omaha the kind of heart and character and fight this team has,' said Gunderson, the junior from Central Catholic who has become the greatest closer in school history. 'To come from the losers' bracket after getting spanked pretty good by Miami, then beat four great teams in the World Series to win a national championship ... it doesn't get any better than that.'
After an 11-1 thumping by Miami in its CWS opener nine days earlier, Oregon State battled back with four straight victories to set up a best-of-three showdown with North Carolina. After losing 4-3 to the Tar Heels in the opener, the Beavers won the final two games to become the first Northwest team to reign as kings of college baseball.
'It's a dream come true the way it happened, coming in here our last game in college baseball and winning the national title,' said Nickerson, honored as the Most Outstanding Player of the CWS. 'We couldn't have drawn it up any better.'
Oregon State (50-16) won the game on an unearned eighth-inning run scored after a throwing error by North Carolina second baseman Bryan Steed, breaking a 2-2 tie.
Nickerson, Buck and Gunderson, early-round draft choices who will soon move on to the professional ranks, made their final college appearance an unforgettable one.
Nickerson, starting on three days rest, threw 6 2/3 effective innings.
Buck, the No. 1 starter making his first relief appearance of the season, came on in the eighth with the score tied 2-2 and picked up the victory.
Gunderson, who had thrown 5 1/3 innings of Oregon State's 11-7 victory over the Tar Heels on Sunday, followed Buck in the ninth and pitched the final two outs for his 20th save of the season.
'It's fitting that it would go Jonah, Dallas, Gundy,' said Oregon State coach Pat Casey, who has taken his team from mediocrity to the pinnacle of college baseball in his 12 seasons. 'They have been warriors for us. I can't tell you how proud of them I am.'
Then Casey laughed, adding, 'I don't think they're going to sign. They're all coming back for another crack at a national championship next year.'
It was a fiercely played defensive struggle, with Nickerson and North Carolina starter Daniel Bard dueling through the first two-thirds of the game. It came down to pitching and defensive execution, the Beavers' calling card all season. They made the plays and, in the end, the Tar Heels didn't.
The Atlantic Coast Conference representatives had four errors. Two of Oregon State's runs were unearned, and the last error cost North Carolina the game.
With two outs in the eighth, the game tied 2-2 and the Beavers getting nothing accomplished against Bard, Bill Rowe walked. When Tyler Graham punched a single into left field, moving Rowe to second, it ended the evening for Bard, who allowed six hits and threw 113 pitches in 7 2/3 innings.
North Carolina brought on Andrew Miller, the national player of the year who started for the Tar Heels in the opener of the championship series. Ryan Gipson, pinch hitting for John Wallace, bounced what appeared to be a routine ground ball to Steed, who came into the game to replace starter Garrett Gore in the fifth. Steed's throw sailed wide of first base. Rowe scored on the throwing error, and the Beavers led 3-2 going into the final inning.
'I felt very confident at that point,' Rowe said. 'We have so much faith in the pitching staff, with a lead that late in the game, we're not going to lose it.'
Buck, who had quelled a major threat in the eighth, struck out Steed to open the ninth. But after Mike Cavasinni singled and Reid Fronk walked, Casey went to Gunderson, who had thrown 5 1/3 innings in Oregon State's 11-7 win on Sunday.
With runners on first and second and one out, Gunderson induced Carolina's No. 3 hitter, Josh Horton, to hit a grounder to first baseman Rowe. Rowe threw to shortstop Darwin Barney for a force out at second, but Barney's throw to Gunderson at first wasn't quite in time.
With two outs and runners at the corners, Chad Flack flew out to Tyler Graham in center field, and the Beavers were national champions. Gunderson was mobbed by teammates, who created a mass dog pile by the pitcher's mound as OSU fans began to celebrate in the stands.
'To just get to the College World Series is an amazing thrill,' said Casey, who has taken his team there two years in a row. 'To be able to hold up that championship trophy, it's unbelievable. I'm a humble person. I'm thankful for the blessings I have, including those 25 guys in our dugout.'
Gunderson, Rowe, third baseman Shea McFeely and outfielder Cole Gillespie joined Nickerson on the CWS all-tournament team.
What a week it was for Nickerson. It began last Monday when he pitched the Beavers to a 5-3 victory over Georgia. On two days rest, he came back to beat Rice and send his team into the championship series. Monday's victory was the coup de grace.
In three games over an eight-day period, Nickerson threw 323 pitches over 21 1/3 innings, pitching two victories and putting the Beavers in position to gain a third in the title game.
'It's a great bonus,' Nickerson said of the Most Outstanding Player award. 'Without my teammates, I would never be recognized with a trophy like this. It should go to the whole team, but it feels great to get this honor.'
Nickerson allowed six hits, no earned runs and struck out seven in his 6 2/3 innings Monday. The junior right-hander from Oregon City was nearly flawless through four innings, allowing only one base runner on an infield single. The Tar Heels began to get to him after that, but Nickerson got by on savvy and fumes through the next 2 2/3 innings. When he was done, he had thrown 100 pitches, 68 for strikes, and gone far beyond the call of duty in his third start in eight days in the CWS.
'Jonah showed unbelievable courage,' Casey said. 'In his mind, he had another day's rest than he did the other time and felt better. His legs and his back were sore, but his arm felt fine.'
'My arm felt great; my legs weren't there,' Nickerson said. 'But fatigue wasn't a factor. I told him (Casey) I was going to go out there and give it all I had. He knew when it was time to come get me.'
Buck came on for Eddie Kunz in the eighth with runners on first and second, no out and a 2-0 count on batter Jay Cox. Cox hit an apparent double-play ball to Rowe at first base, but Rowe bobbled the ball and settled for a force out at first, advancing the runners to second and third.
After an intentional walk to Tim Federowicz loaded the bases with one out, Buck struck out Seth Williams and Benji Johnson to end the inning as Beaver fans whooped it up.
'I had to make a few pitches and not let them score,' Buck said. 'I knew I could do it. I can't really say I was surprised. That fired the team up and got a little mo' on our side, so it felt good.'
It had been a disappointing CWS for Buck, who had started in both of Oregon State's losses. He hadn't pitched in relief all season but was determined to help out if needed.
'Usually when he's not pitching, Dallas has his slippers on and he's chewing (sunflower) seeds,' Casey said, laughing. 'Today, he comes out with his cleats on. I knew something was serious about him. And when we ran into a little trouble (in the eighth), he said, 'I'm going down to the bullpen.' '
North Carolina's Bard - a first-round draft pick of the Boston Red Sox - certainly did his part. The 6-4, 200-pound junior right-hander limited Oregon State to five hits through seven innings. Bard got stronger as the game wore on, retiring 13 straight batters after Shea McFeely's fourth-inning single.
Oregon State broke a scoreless tie with two runs - one of them unearned - in the bottom of the fourth, using two hits, three sacrifice hits, two North Carolina errors and some chaos on the base paths provided by Graham.
Graham led off the inning with a single and stole second. Wallace's sacrifice bunt was fielded by Bard, who fumbled the ball for one error, then threw it away for another. Graham raced around third and scored on the play.
After Chris Kunda sacrificed Wallace to second, McFeely drove him home with a single to center.
North Carolina responded with two runs - both unearned - in the top of the fifth. Barney's throwing error put Cox on first base to open the inning. After a flyout, Williams ripped a double to right-center to score Cox, and Benji Johnson singled him to third. Nickerson struck out pinch hitter Matt Spencer for the second out, but Cavasinni drilled an 0-2 pitch to left field for a single that plated Williams and tied the count at 2-2.
Poor base running got Nickerson out of a jam in the sixth. With runners on the corners and one out, Tim Federowicz hit a one-hopper to McFeely at third, and Josh Horton broke for the plate. McFeely threw home to catcher Mitch Canham, who tagged Horton out, then threw to second where Cox had rounded the base. Barney tagged Cox in a rundown, and the Tar Heels were out of the inning without a run.
When Nickerson came out of the game with two outs in the seventh and a runner on second base, he received a standing ovation from all the Oregon State fans - and many others among the 18,565 in attendance.
Joe Paterson replaced Nickerson and walked Cavasinni. OSU brought in right-hander Kunz to face righthanded-hitting Reid Fronk. Fronk's grounder was fielded by Rowe, who tossed to Kunz for the force out at first and the third out of the inning.
Two innings later, it was over, and 'National champions 2006' T-shirts were being dispensed to the Oregon State coaches and players. Soon they would be on their way to a celebration party with family, friends and fans at the Hilton Omaha, capping a night to remember.
'I'm going to celebrate with our fans who are here, and for our fans back home who have been watching us on ESPN,' Gunderson said. 'We're going to live it up until we can't live it up no more.'
Oregon State became the first CWS team to win six elimination games and the first to lose twice and win a national title. The Beavers become the first team to lose their first CWS game and come back to claim an NCAA title since Southern Cal in 1998. ... Barney's throwing error in the fifth snapped a string of 51 1/3 error-less innings by the Beavers. ... Gillespie finished with school single-season records in runs (83), total bases (163) and doubles (25), ranks second in hits (89), third in walks (46), tied for fourth in home runs (13) and tied for fifth in RBIs (57). Nickerson finished first on the OSU list in season strikeouts (131) and innings pitched (136 2/3) and tied with Buck for second in pitching wins (13). Kevin Gunderson set school saves records for a season (20) and career (37). ... Nickerson (299) and Buck (272) rank 1-2 on the OSU career strikeouts list. ... The seven runs scored by Oregon State in the fourth inning of Sunday's game versus North Carolina tied the record for most runs in an inning during a CWS championship series. ... The five-run deficit overcome by the Beavers Sunday was the biggest overcome for a victory in a championship series. ... Gunderson become the first pitcher since Pepperdine's Steve Montgomery (1992) to get at least one victory and two saves in a CWS; he finished with one win and three saves for the tourney. ... Rowe's four RBIs Sunday tied the championship series single-game record. ... Rowe (87 putouts) and Kunda (32 assists) established CWS fielding records.
North Carolina 000 020 000 - 2 8 4
Oregon State 000 200 01 - 3 6 1
Daniel Bard, Andrew Miller (8), Jonathan Hovis (8) and Benji Johnson; Jonah Nickerson, Joe Paterson (7), Eddie Kunz (7), Dallas Buck (8), Kevin Gunderson (9) and Mitch Canham. WP: Buck (13-3) LP: Bard (9-4). A: 18,565.