One dogpile down for Beavers
CORVALLIS — One dogpile down, one to go.
That's the way the Oregon State Beavers look at it after cinching one of eight spots in the College World Series.
The nation's top-seeded team (54-4) earned its 21st consecutive victory by blowing away Vanderbilt 9-2 to claim the best-of-three Super Regional 2-0 Saturday night at Goss Stadium.
The Beavers will advance to a Saturday date with Cal State Fullerton in their opening game of the double-elimination tournament at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Nebraska. The Titans beat Long Beach State 2-1 Sunday in the deciding third game of their Super Regional at Long Beach, California.
It's the fifth time in 13 years Oregon State has reached the College World Series. The Beavers won national back-to-back titles in 2006 and '07; this team has a chance to make it happen, too.
Beaver teams traditionally won't dogpile unless it's after winning a national crown. But emotions were running too high for it not to happen Saturday after Christian Donahue squeezed the final out on a deep fly ball to left field.
On the bottom of the pile on the infield after being tackled by catcher Adley Rutschman was pitcher Bryce Fehmel, whose extraordinary performance was the biggest key to the triumph.
"I didn't feel anything," said the sophomore right-hander, who went the distance, allowing the power-hitting Commodores only one earned run on five hits, with no walks and 10 strikeouts. "It's all a blur."
On Friday, Oregon State opened with an 8-4 win over Vanderbilt. On Saturday, the Beavers got to Commodores right-hander Kyle Wright — the potential No. 1 pick in Monday's major league draft — for eight hits and seven runs in 6 2/3 innings.
How did the sweep happen?
"One word — compete," said OSU first baseman KJ Harrison, the unofficial Super Regional Most Valuable Player after delivering a three-run homer for the second straight game. "Coach (Pat) Casey has told us this whole week, 'Go in there and get after it.'
"I'm so proud of everyone. We went out there fearless. It's a great feeling to go out there and compete at a high level. Everyone was out there battling. That's what made this experience so fun."
Fehmel, a Freshman All-American after going 10-1 last season, lost his job in the starting rotation late this season after a string of ineffective starts. His last start was May 6 against California. Fehmel hadn't pitched since going an inning in relief against Abilene Christian on May 28.
Sunday's opportunity opened because ace left-hander Luke Heimlich was rendered out of commission after an Oregon Live report revealed he had been convicted of sexual abuse of a minor girl as a 15-year-old in 2011. That pushed Jake Thompson into a starting role on Friday night, with Fehmel getting the nod on Saturday.
All he did was pitch the game of his life. Where did that performance come from?
"Out of nowhere," said Fehmel, who learned of his assignment in a text message from pitching coach Nate Yeskie on Saturday afternoon. "I've been ready to be in this situation. Getting to Omaha has been our goal the whole entire year. I was ready for this moment."
Fehmel was all of that, to the delight of his coaches.
"We never dreamed he would go nine (innings)," Casey said. "He was so good I almost fell asleep. He just was fantastic. (Late in the game) I went out to make a (position) change and the umpire said, 'God, I hope you're not taking that pitcher out.' Bryce was outstanding. Wow, what a game to pitch in that situation against that club.
"It was absolutely warrior mentality from him, for not having started for so long. Nate told me in the seventh, 'He's going to finish this thing.' We were considering closing with Drew (Rasmussen) or (Sam) Tweedt if it was close. Bryce just made it easy for us."
Yeskie convinced Casey after Friday's win that Fehmel deserved the call.
"I thought of the guys we had and what he could do, his changeup might give (the Commodores) some fits," Yeskie said. "It was my gut instinct or initial reaction to say this guy's the right matchup. He hasn't been in the mix for a while, but it's indicative of how this group has been. Guys haven't thrown for weeks, and then they get the ball and they're ready to roll."
Fehmel was primarily an infielder in high school in Agoura Hills, California.
"He wasn't a kid who was highly recruited," Yeskie said. "We knew he had a little history pitching. He probably pitched more innings this year than he had collectively in his high school career."
How good was Fehmel on Saturday night?
"Insert whatever superlative you want," Yeskie said. "He was sharp when he needed to be. He seemed to be one step ahead of (the hitters). The last couple of innings, after we gave him some breathing room, he put his foot on the gas. We used a little heavier mix of off-speed (pitches) than usual. His changeup was working. His slider was working."
Yeskie called the pitches. Fehmel didn't shake off a call all night.
"Coach Yeskie just does a fabulous job," Casey said. "He has such a good feel with his pitchers, and they trust him. He called a great game tonight. It was spectacular."
The Beavers backed him with an offensive attack that featured 12 hits and six walks. Harrison drove in four runs while Steven Kwan, Nick Madrigal, Trevor Larnach and Cadyn Grenier all had two hits. Then there was Donahue, whose catch crashing into the left-field wall robbed Vandy's Jason Delay of an extra-base hit in the second.
Oregon State batted around in the third and seventh innings, both rallies starting with two outs and no runners on.
"It's about the players," Casey marveled afterward. "I always say you don't have to have all the best players, but you have to have the right players. We have the right players. I give them the credit 100 percent. I feel blessed to able to coach them. Now we're looking forward to the next challenge."
That will come in Omaha, the Beavers riding high on the nation's longest win streak.
"We don't even think about it," Harrison said. "We just win every game, man. We owe it all to the coaching staff and Coach Casey for pushing us day in and day out.
"They've built such a good program. Every night we go out there for our teammates and coaches because we love one another. That's what this program is built upon."