Not many people knew what to expect out of the Oregon State Beavers baseball team coming into the 2017 season. Coming off a transition season, many expected the Pac-12 squad to be competitive, probably make the NCAA Tournament, but maybe not a title contender yet. Fast forward four months and the idea that Oregon State won’t win the title is hard to believe. Inconceivable, one might say.
Boasting a jaw-dropping record of 54 wins and 4 losses, the Beavers enter the College World Series on a 21-game winning streak. Is that their longest of the season? Hardly. The Beavers have already ripped off a streak of 23 games this season, that stretched from February 24 to April 13. After that April 13 loss to Washington kicked off a ‘terrible’ 5-3 stretch for Oregon State, the Beavers have not lost since April 29. With the exception of 16 days in the season, they are 49-1. Their level of dominance this season has been unbelievable and incredibly rare in a sport full of parity and unpredictability. In the NCAA Tournament, the Beavers have hardly slowed down. They kicked off their tournament with a pounding of the Holy Cross Crusaders, 8-2. They followed up that act with consecutive thumpings of Yale, 11-0 and 8-1 to handily win their regional.
In the NCAA Tournament, the Beavers have hardly slowed down. They kicked off their tournament with a pounding of the Holy Cross Crusaders; following up that act with consecutive thumpings of Yale University, to handily win their regional. Entering their Super Regional versus Vanderbilt, Oregon State’s ace Luke Heimlich requested to not pitch after a scandal regarding a sex crime he committed as a 15-year old was unveiled. No ace? No problem. The Beavers handled the Commodores in the opener, 8-4, and they clinched the following evening by cruising to an easy 9-2 victory. How will the Beavers follow up their latest trick? And can anyone stop them?
Although it’s hard to imagine a team that lost just four games all season losing in a double elimination tournament, there are teams capable of knocking off the Beavers. They better hope to do it soon though because no team has won a series from the Beavers all season, so beating them in the championship best-of-three series does not seem likely.
Oregon State’s first opponent will be Cal State Fullerton. The Titans return to Omaha for the second time in three years after rallying to top Long Beach State in three games in the Super Regional. The Titans were not streaking coming into the tournament (8-7 in their past 15 games), but they got hot at the right time, beating regional host Stanford twice en route to the Super Regionals where they edged their conference rivals. Their biggest advantage is their experience in Omaha. They have appeared in 18 College World Series to Oregon State’s 6, and they have also come away with four titles. A key to victory for the Titans is scoring early – they are 25-9 when they score first.
If the Beavers win, they get to take on the winner of LSU and Florida State, both undefeated in the NCAA Tournament. LSU is the hottest team in the nation behind the Beavers, coming off 16 straight wins that included a SEC championship. The Tigers have won six titles but none since 2009. Their grit is remarkable, as both of their Super Regional victories featured comebacks, one of which was an eighth-inning rally from a 3-0 deficit. Their ace Alex Lange, a first-round draft pick of the Chicago Cubs, will hope to boost the Tigers into the winner’s bracket. Florida State was a confusing team this year, going just 14-14 in ACC play but winning the postseason championship. Making their first Omaha appearance since 2012, the Seminoles lack a strong track record, featuring a record of 28-42 in the CWS. Despite winning 19-0 in their Omaha clincher, the Seminoles will be considered one of the weaker teams in the field.
Filling out the other side of the bracket is Louisville, Texas A&M, Florida, and TCU.
Louisville is still seeking an elusive title, but they have looked dominant this year and home a string of futile appearances in Omaha ends this year. The Cardinals are just 1-6 in previous CWS appearances, but they have a chance to get off to a good start by facing unseeded underdog Texas A&M. The resilient Aggies have a rough record of their own in Omaha, going just 2-10 in five appearances. They had lost six of seven entering the tournament, but they ran through the field to go 5-0 en route to Omaha. The Aggies are the intriguing underdog story to watch as the lowest ranked team remaining, but their lack of star power will make it difficult to overcome the three national seeds on their side of the bracket.
Florida has one of the best pitching staffs in the country, led by 18th overall draft pick Alex Faedo. Faedo is the ace of the Gators’ staff that hopes to lead Florida to their first title and improve on their squad’s 14-21 overall record in Omaha. They haven’t lost consecutive games since April 7 and 8 which will serve them well in a double-elimination tournament. However, they have a tough bracket to navigate through to reach the final – can the Gators avenge their years of disappointment? TCU hopes not, as they draw the Gators in probably the most enticing opening round matchup. The Horned Frogs are 8-8 in their Omaha appearances, and they too lack a title. Despite a lack of star power, TCU has gotten it done all year, entering the tournament as the #6 seed overall and sweeping through their Regional and Super Regional. They have a tough draw in facing Faedo first round, but the Horned Frogs are resilient, and a win could give them the extra confidence boost they need.
Oregon State goes 3-1 en route to winning their half of the bracket. LSU beats Florida State, loses to the Beavers, beats the Titans in an elimination game, beats the Beavers to force a deciding game, but they ultimately drop the decider.
In the bottom half of the bracket, Louisville’s star power tips them over the edge, as the Cardinals run through their regional unhindered. The Cardinals sweep past the Aggies, the Gators, then the Gators once more to reach the final. The Gators will beat TCU and Texas A&M each once but lose to Louisville twice.
Top Half of the Bracket Lower Half of the Bracket
Oregon State 3-1 Louisville 3-0
LSU 3-2 Florida 2-2
CSU Fullerton 1-2 Texas A&M 1-2
Florida State 0-2 TCU 0-2
Oregon State in three games. Louisville takes the opener behind their ace and excellent hitting, but Oregon State’s depth overwhelms the Cardinals in the three-game series – a key reason the Beavers are nearly unbeatable in series this season.
Enjoy the College World Series and check back with the Pro Sports Grapevine for coverage!