Beavers set up LSU rematch
CORVALLIS — The form chart held on a postcard-perfect Friday at Goss Stadium.
Louisiana State got past San Diego State, 6-4, and Oregon State took it to Northwestern State, 9-3, in the opening games of the Corvallis regional, and now the showdown is set.
The Beavers (45-10-1) will square off against the Tigers (38-25) in a rematch of last year's College World Series opponents.
"Two real good teams," OSU coach Pat Casey said of Saturday's 7 p.m. matchup. "We're excited about playing them. LSU is a terrific team. (The Tigers) have great players. It will be a great atmosphere."
A Goss record crowd of 3,908 watched Oregon State — the national No. 3 seed — take care of business against a Northwestern State team that was game but overmatched.
"We played our tails off," said Bobby Barbier, in his second season coaching the Natchitoches, Louisiana, club that won the Southland Conference Tournament. "We track (offensive stats), and we had 17 hard-hit balls."
Most of them were off of OSU starter Bryce Fehmel, who pitched well, allowing six hits and two earned runs with one walk and a season-high nine strikeouts in 7 2/3 innings. The Demons (37-23) had some good whacks against Fehmel, who had seven fly-ball outs, many of them to the warning track. But the Beavers played superb defense behind him and took advantage of some timely hitting against Northwestern State starter Ridge Heisler.
"That other team is really good," Barbier said. "'Ridge' pitched his tail off against a lineup that has more professional hitters than we've faced all year long.
"The result wasn't what we wanted, but we try not to worry about the result a whole bunch. It's about how we played. I'm proud of how we played against a tough opponent in a tough environment."
Nick Madrigal snapped out of an 0-for-17 slump with three hits and four RBIs and Kyle Nobach and Zak Taylor homered for the Beavers, who came in ranked first or second in the five national polls.
Madrigal delivered a two-out, two-run single for a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the third inning. Nobach's two-run homer over the left-field fence — reminiscent of a similar blow the previous weekend against UCLA — made it 4-0 in the fourth frame.
"Got a good pitch on a 3-1 count," said Nobach, a fifth-year senior who redshirted last season after knee surgery. "I was on time and put some sting on it. It felt good."
The Beavers broke it open while batting around in the sixth, scoring four runs for an 8-1 lead. Madrigal's two-run double was the big blow. The junior second baseman, who missed 26 games early in the season after breaking his left hand, said he wasn't pressing going into the game.
"You're not always going to get a hit every day," he said. "My dad taught me that. I try to not to carry yesterday into the next day. That's one of the great parts of baseball — you get to play the next day.
"I felt good last weekend but didn't get any hits. I was feeling good today, just like I was last weekend."
The Beavers managed nine hits off Heisler, who came into the game with a 7-2 record and a 3.01 ERA.
"You have to throw everything you've got the first time around just to get them out," the junior left-hander said. "The second time, they've seen what you've got. They can adjust pitch by pitch — they're that good of a team."
Fehmel, meanwhile, did a nice job of throwing first-pitch strikes and painting the corners in what Casey termed an "outstanding" performance. He also got air-tight defense from his teammates.
"That's been going on all year," said Fehmel, who improved to 10-1. "Nothing new. Being able to pitch with that defense behind me helps me fill the strike zone, knowing they're making all the plays behind me."
Casey offered a mostly positive review.
"We need to be a little bit better offensively, but we did the things we need to do," the 24th-year OSU skipper said. "We pitched and defended. Winning that first game is always tough. I'm proud of the way the guys played."
Now it's on to LSU, the national runner-up a year ago after taking two of three from Oregon State at Omaha. OSU coaches saved their ace, senior left-hander Luke Heimlich, for Saturday, as did the Tigers in sophomore right-hander Zach Hess.
The 6-6, 220-pound Hess, who pitched in relief in two of the games against the Beavers last season, is 7-5 with a 4.43 ERA, 101 strikeouts in 89 2/3 innings and a .227 opponents' batting average. Hess, with a 96-mph fastball and a wicked slider, limited Arkansas to one hit and one run in seven innings in a SEC tournament win last week.
The Tigers aren't the same team as a year ago, having lost five starting position players from that juggernaut lineup. They still should provide a formidable task for the Beavers, who can't help but have a little revenge on their minds, even if they won't admit it.
"We're going to prepare like we would every other team," Madrigal said. "Our coaching staff does a great job getting us ready. We'll take it like every other game."