Oregon State closer takes shot, then delivers one to Bulldogs

CORVALLIS - Lightning struck Tony Bryant twice Sunday night.

Metaphorically speaking, at least.

First it was a line drive off the bat of Georgia pinchhitter Chase Davidson in the bottom of the ninth inning, the ball bouncing off Bryant's right shoulder like a Wham-O Super Ball.

Then, after Bryant somehow shook off the atomic blast and prepared to face the next batter, the light standard behind home plate went out, touching off a 20-minute delay.

With the skies over Goss Stadium growing darker and storm clouds threatening, it seemed the next thing bound to happen was for actual lightning to strike the pitcher's mound.

Bryant survived, turning back the heart of the Georgia batting order to preserve Oregon State's 6-4 victory, clinching the NCAA Regional.

Now the Beavers (41-17) move on to a date in the Super Regionals with third-ranked Vanderbilt, a juggernaut of a club that won three of four with Georgia this season, outscoring the Bulldogs 36-10 in the Commodores' three victories.

'They're the best team we've played,' Georgia coach David Perno said of the Commodores. 'It's going to be tough.

'Vanderbilt is really good. Not to take anything away from Oregon State, but Vanderbilt runs a lot of arms against you that are really talented and a lineup that has a lot of balance and can get you out a lot of different ways.'

Oregon State probably wouldn't be in the Super Regionals without Bryant, who showed his toughness Sunday night after displaying his skill through a sophomore season that saw him earn All-Pac-10 honors as OSU's closer.

The 6-7, 210-pound Kennewick, Wash., native picked up his 12th save of the season Sunday night. But after taking the shot on his deltoid muscle off the bat of Davidson, I'd have offered long odds he was done for the night.

As Davidson was heading for first base on a single, Bryant turned and grimaced, holding his shoulder in obvious pain. After time was called, a hush fell over Goss Stadium as a concerned OSU coach Pat Casey jogged to the mound.

'I thought I was going to have to give him mouth-to-mouth,' Casey joked afterward. 'He said, 'No, I'm going to throw.' '

Bryant admitted he wasn't sure.

'The first thought in my head was, 'I don't know if I'm going to be able to continue pitching,' ' he said. 'The ball hit me pretty square in the shoulder.

'It happened so fast. I threw the ball, and the next thing you know, shoulder pain. It hurt for a few minutes, and then I started throwing, and it didn't feel too bad. It started getting looser and finally I pretty much felt the same as I always do.

'After awhile, I thought, 'I'm not going to come this far and give up now.' The adrenalin pumped in, the crowd got into it and I was able to finish it off.'

Not before another interruption, however.

The crowd gave Bryant a big hand for his grit and settled in to watch as Georgia's Levi Hyams stepped into the batter's box as the tying run with Davidson at first and no outs in the ninth.

Then, as if by an act of God, the light bank went out.

Oooh, went the Beaver faithful.

No, thought Bryant, eager to get the game over with.

'I didn't know what was wrong,' he said. 'I wanted to get going. My shoulder was getting stiffer and stiffer. I was like, 'Come on, let's get going.' I didn't know if the delay was going to be long.'

First the ball off his shoulder. Then the lights go dark.

'Just some bad luck,' Bryant said. 'Two things, bang bang. But (the lights situation) gave me some time to clear my mind and get ready to pitch again.'

During the 20-minute delay to get the lights restored, Bryant went to the bullpen along with a couple of other pitchers, who were preparing to throw should Bryant not be able to go.

After play resumed, Bryant got Hyams on a flyout. After walking Curt Powell to put the potential winning run at the plate, Bryant retired the next two batters to end the game and start the Beavers' on-field celebration.

'I'm so excited,' Bryant said. 'This is a dream come true - the biggest moment of my career.'

For Bryant, it was the culmination of two years of ups and downs while wearing the orange and black.

Sought by most of the Pac-10 schools, Bryant didn't give anyone else a chance.

'I really had my mind set on coming here,' he said. 'I always wanted to be a Beaver.'

He came to school for fall term his freshman year with shoulder tendinitis, slowing his progress.

'I was a little behind the curve right away,' he said. 'I thought I'd be in the bullpen starting off.'

Bryant didn't see a lot of action, fashioning a 4.64 ERA through 21 1/3 innings in 14 appearances.

'It didn't go as good as I thought it would,' he said. 'I pitched all right sometimes, and sometimes I struggled. We had a great bullpen, a lot of older guys who led the way, so I didn't get in too much.'

Last summer, Bryant was limited to three weeks of duty for Bellingham of the Northwest Amateur Summer League before shutting it down with a sore shoulder. By fall, it had cleared up, and Bryant has thrived this season in the closer's role.

'It's been awesome, everything I could ever dream for,' he said. 'Wherever I can pitch, I'm fine with it. In closing, you get to pitch two or three times a weekend, and you have a big impact. I love pitching out of the bullpen.'

After Sunday's game, Bryant wore a wide grin as well as an icepack on his shoulder.

'I think it'll be sore for a couple of days,' he said. 'It's just like if I got hit by a pitch. I'll get a couple of days of rest, and then it's right back at them.'

Considering the alternatives - mouth-to-mouth from Casey, for starters - that's a very good thing.

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