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Twice during Wednesday night's 7-1 victory against UC Irvine -- a result that put the defending national champions back in the best-of-three title series to face either North Carolina, the team it defeated last year, or Rice -- Oregon State sacrificed to move a runner up for the second out of an inning.
The first such instance came in the third inning of a scoreless game, and guess what? Irvine third baseman Tyler Vaughn made a throwing error after fielding a grounder hit by the next batter, Mike Lissman, and before the Anteaters could get back to their dugout, they trailed 4-0.
"It's not always the long ball for us," noted Beavers junior shortstop Darwin Barney, a fourth-round draft pick of the Chicago Cubs and one of two returning position starters from the 2006 club. "Little things get us going, and we're the kind of club that if we get going we're tough to beat."
One would have never guessed the Beavers would be beating the three teams in the manner they have here -- never trailing -- if they'd checked in with Casey's club a month ago. For that matter, they likely would have been wanting to know who Casey's 2008 squad was going to open against.
On May 20, Arizona State was wrapping up a three-game sweep of Oregon State -- the first suffered by the Beavers in Corvallis in four years. The outcome left OSU on the short end of three straight Pac-10 series and 8-13 in the conference heading into the final three regular-season games at UCLA.
"I don't know what the odds were [then]," Casey said Wednesday in regard to his club getting a shot at defending its crown, "but I'm pretty sure there's a couple of guys happy they bet on the Beavs."
After winning two of three from the Bruins, a team that would end up with a No. 2 NCAA regional seed, the Beavers got the nod over two teams that finished higher than them in the Pac-10 and were sent to the regional at Virginia as a No. 3 seed.
They started with a win against Rutgers before losing a 13-inning decision to the Cavaliers. But in a 24-hour span, OSU came back to beat Rutgers again and then knocked off the hosts twice to advance to a super regional.
With No. 1 national seed Vanderbilt having been eliminated by Michigan, Oregon State received home field and beat the Wolverines in the opener 1-0 when freshman Joey Wong broke up a no-hitter with an RBI single with two outs in the ninth inning. The Beavers then sealed their return to Omaha with an 8-2 victory.
And they haven't eased up.
Unlike last season, when it lost its CWS opener before winning six elimination contests en route to the title, Oregon State has the look of a squad that expects to be carrying off another coveted piece of hardware come Sunday or Monday.
Freshman Jorge Reyes outdueled Cal State Fullerton's Wes Roemer, a supplemental first-round draft pick, to fuel a 3-2 win in the opener.
In the second game, a 12-6 victory over the Sun Devils, the Beavers scored more runs in the first two innings (6) than they did in the three games against ASU in Corvallis.
Wednesday, they were taking on a crowd-favorite bunch of Anteaters who in their previous two games had become the first team in the event's 61-year history to post extra-inning victories on consecutive days.
|Darwin Barney and Oregon State are sliding back into the CWS finals.|
Beavers starting pitcher Daniel Turpen, who'd thrown caution to the wind regarding the age-old advice about saving energy on game day and had gone fishing earlier Wednesday, lasted eight innings while improving his record to 10-1.
Barney would go 3-for-5 and drive in two runs to move one hit away from tying the school record for most in a career (236). And Canham, a supplemental first-round pick of San Diego who had six hits in his previous 36 at-bats, also had a 3-for-5, three-RBI night.
When the final out came, Oregon State had an eight-game winning streak, it's second longest this season, and had played its 32nd error-free contest.
"When we were going through our skid, that's just part of baseball," Barney said of a May stretch in which OSU lost seven of nine. "You're not going to get a hit every time because there's nine guys on the field playing defense. We've always been confident. We've always known that we're a good club, and it was just a matter of putting things together."
Ah, but didn't that seem unlikely heading into the final series of the regular season?
"Five years ago, I probably wouldn't have been a very good coach after getting swept at home," Casey acknowledged. "But I think it's like anything else -- if you want to get good at something, work at it. The one thing that I tried to do with the guys is make sure they knew that I trusted them.
" I was unhappy. I didn't sleep. I didn't eat. But I was able to make sure that they understood that I felt confident that we were going to turn the thing around."
Though not quite completed, the Beavers are in the kind of mode right now that they probably wouldn't surprise themselves if they capped the season like it began back in January, when they produced the school's first no-hitter in 40 years.
"We're deep. We can pitch. We defend very well. And when our bats are there, we're very tough to beat," Barney said. "You can't win anything unless you think you can. We like to call it confidence. A lot of people call it cockiness, and I think we've got a good swagger going right now. We feel good."
Curt McKeever is a reporter for the Lincoln Journal Star.