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Beavers win outright Pac-12 title the right way

CORVALLIS -- First, in the top of the eighth inning Sunday afternoon, there were ripples of applause as word spread throughout Goss Stadium. Soon, public-address announcer Brian Brooks made it official: Utah had beaten Oregon 10-3, clinching outright the Pac-12 championship for Oregon State.

The fans delivered a standing ovation. Moments later, the Beavers delivered something more for them to cheer about.

On the first pitch of the bottom of the eighth, OSU's Dylan Davis sent a Jason Monda fastball into orbit far beyond the left-field wall to close Washington State's lead to 6-5. The next hitter, left-handed first baseman Danny Hayes, crushed a ball over the right-field fence and suddenly it was 6-6.

Nearly an hour later, after Ryan Barnes' single to left scored Davis with the winning run in a 7-6 victory, a College World Series-worthy dogpile was on.

There was coach Pat Casey, getting a Gatorade bath compliments of seniors Matt Boyd and Tyler Smith. There was Barnes, getting a shaving-cream pie in the kisser from teammate Max Gordon during a television interview.

It was a very cool scene in a decade full of them at Goss Stadium.

"I guess that's the way to do it," said Casey, as players and coaches celebrated around him wearing gray "Pac-12 champions 2013" T-shirts.

There was plenty of incentive for the fourth-ranked Beavers to win Sunday's regular-season finale against the game but pitching-challenged Cougars.

The Beavers wanted to secure one of eight national seeds, which would guarantee the opportunity to host a regional and -- should they advance that far -- a super regional. OSU had split the first two games against Wazoo, so the series was on the line, too.

"We wanted to make sure we were national seeds, no question about it," Casey said. "We didn't want to lose the series. You don't want to share (the title) if you don't have to."

And there was this: The Beavers didn't want to back into their first conference title since 2006, losing their finale but claiming the title because of a defeat sustained by the second-place Ducks.

"We didn't want to take it that way," said Davis, the sophomore right fielder who has grown into a monster talent in his first season as a full-time starter. "We wanted to do whatever we could to get that win."

For a while, it appeared the Beavers were doing everything they could to lose it. They jumped to a 4-0 lead after two innings, then found themselves trailing 6-4 as the Cougs chased southpaw Ben Wetzler -- who had won his previous seven starts -- with nine hits and six earned runs in five-plus innings.

In the seventh, Barnes -- the designated hitter who has had a so-so senior season at the plate -- gathered his teammates in the OSU dugout.

"I told them, 'Let's relax,' " Barnes said. " 'Let's enjoy this moment. Let's go win us the Pac-12. There's no reason to press.' "

The next inning, the Beavers learned they were Pac-12 champions. As if on cue, Davis came through his tape-measure bomb, followed by Hayes' moon shot. Coincidence? Or did the news of the Ducks relieve the pressure?

"Nah, we were just battling," said Davis, who had three hits, scored two runs and had two RBIs. "We were pressing too much there for a while. Later, we realized, 'Let's relax, let's keep doing what we've been doing the whole year.' "

Everything changed with Davis' swat.

"It was like (Saturday), when we got the one big hit," said pitcher Andrew Moore, destined for All-American honors in a sensational freshman campaign. "There was that energy. You started to feel it in the dugout. The confidence was up. It took some of the pressure off."

Davis' three-run homer had been the biggest blow in Saturday's 4-0 win that assured Oregon State of a piece of the Pac-12 crown and the conference's automatic berth in the NCAA tournament. Sunday's round-tripper was colossal, too.

"I've been seeing the ball well this weekend," Davis said. Monda "left me a pitch I was looking for like (Saturday), and I just took advantage of it.

"Coach (Pat Bailey) always says, 'You don't hit home runs; pitchers throw home runs.' That's pretty much true. Look for pitches, put a good swing on it and it's going to go out."

Good fortune swung Oregon State's way in the ninth. With two outs, Davis popped one up into right field, and it appeared extra innings were in order. But the ball got in the swirling wind and dropped in front of the Cougars' Yale Rosen for a double. After an intentional walk to Hayes, Barnes lined his third hit of the game to left and the robust victory celebration was on for the Beavers (45-10, 24-6), the first team to finish with an .800 won-loss mark in Pac-12 play since 1999.

"Even though we knew we had the Pac-12 title, we didn't want to go out on a loss," Barnes said. "That's not how we wanted to win it. We took the pressure off ourselves toward the end and got the big hits when we needed them."

This remarkable season would not have been possible without the strongest senior class in Casey's 19 years at the OSU helm. Boyd, a 13th-round pick in the 2012 major-league draft, turned down a contract with Cincinnati to return for his senior season. All the left-hander has done is go 10-3 with a 2.09 ERA as the Friday-night starter. Smith has been a rock at shortstop and a depend-on leadoff hitter. Hayes, Barnes, center fielder Gordon and pitchers Tony Bryant and Cole Brocker have also been key components to the Beavers' success.

"Our seniors are the heart and soul of our club," Casey said. "We have good players everywhere, but that leadership is invaluable. Matt coming back got everybody juiced. We couldn't have gotten to where we are without Smitty. Hayes has kept getting better and better. Barnes will do anything for you. When we started playing Max, our whole attitude changed. He gave us energy and defense and really helped us out.

"Those seniors helped get us those 15- and 12-win streaks that got us a chance to be a national seed."

Oregon State entered Sunday competition fourth in national RPI rankings behind North Carolina, Vanderbilt and Virginia. Cal State Fullerton was fifth and Louisiana State -- which beat Vanderbilt Sunday to claim the SEC tournament title -- sixth.

The Beavers should enter next weekend's four-team regional at Corvallis with by far their best national seed ever. They were eighth in 2005 when they made the College World Series for the first time since 1953. In 2006 and '07, when the Beavers won it all, they went into the playoffs unseeded.

"We should be No. 3 or 4," Casey said. "I'm thinking probably the 4 seed. Vandy, LSU and North Carolina are going to be hard to move."

A No. 3 or 4 seed would mean Oregon State will ostensibly face a little easier path to Omaha than a No. 7 or 8 seed. Easy it won't be, of course. Nothing is easy in the NCAA playoffs, as the Beavers are well aware.

"We're pretty locked for a national seed," Davis said. "I'd be surprised if we weren't, but stranger things have happened.

"We just want to control when we stop playing. We don't want anybody else to. We want teams to beat us. We don't want to beat ourselves."

This Oregon State team has done that better than any since the '07 club that came on with a late rush, then was unstoppable on its way to the throne in Omaha.

On Friday, these Beavers will begin the formidable task of writing their ticket to college baseball's mecca. They couldn't have done a better job of putting themselves in a position to succeed.

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