When the Oregon State Beavers and Arkansas Razorbacks take the field Thursday night for the NCAA Division I baseball championship, all the elements for another classic will converge.
The same cast of characters that produced the first two games in the College World Series finals will face off at TD Ameritrade Park one more time. Same players. Same coaches.
Even the same crazy fans.
But whether the deciding game can measure up to Wednesday night’s Game 2 in sheer, dramatic theater remains as an open question.
Oregon State rallied in the ninth inning behind Cadyn Grenier and Trevor Larnach for a stunning 5-3 victory over Arkansas, tying the CWS finals at one win apiece.
Nobody won a championship, but the game was a gem, with the lead changing hands three times.
“I never had a doubt,” Larnach said in an ESPN interview. “I never was worried.”
Arkansas registered a 4-1 victory on Tuesday to open the best-of-3 finals, setting the stage for the re-match.
In the top of the ninth, Arkansas was one out away from clinching the victory and the national title, but couldn’t close it out.
The game appeared to be over when Grenier lifted a high pop fly in foul territory behind first base.
But with Razorbacks second baseman Carson Shaddy, right fielder Eric Cole and first baseman Jared Gates converging, the ball dropped behind Shaddy and between the other two players for a foul ball.
Grenier would get another swing against Arkansas relief ace Matt Cronin, and he delivered with a two-out, two-strike RBI single through the left side to tie the game.
Larnach followed with a line drive, two-run homer to right field, making it 5-3.
In the bottom of the ninth, Arkansas reliver Jake Mulholland got a ground ball, double play to end it.
Cadyn Grenier, in the Corvallis Gazette-Times:
“As soon as you see the ball drop, you know you have another life. All I thought was I needed to refocus and make the most of that extra life that we got.”
Matt Cronin, in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette:
“I was feeling good, expecting to finish the ballgame right there and win a natty (a national title). But it didn’t work out the way we wanted it. So we’re going to regroup and get it tomorrow.”
How it happened
The Razorbacks scored first with a run in the second inning off Oregon State starter Bryce Fehmel.
Carson Shaddy started the rally with a one-out single, and Jared Gates was hit by a pitch.
After a Grant Koch ground ball resulted in a force play, erasing Shaddy at third base, Fehmel walked Jax Biggers to load the bases.
The implosion continued when Fehmel threw a wild pitch, allowing Gates to score and giving the Razorbacks a 1-0 lead.
In the top of the fourth, Oregon State’s Adley Ruschman tied the game with a solo home run off Arkansas starter Kacey Murphy.
The Beavers continued to scrap in the fifth inning, bunching three hits and scoring a run to take the lead on a suicide squeeze bunt.
Zak Taylor delivered a one-out single through the infield, and then Preston Jones beat out a bunt single placed perfectly down the third base line.
At that point, Jake Reindl replaced Murphy and promptly walked Nick Madrigal to load the bases.
Grenier followed with an RBI single on another bunt, boosting Oregon State into a 2-1 lead.
Reindl threw one more pitch, a ball, to Larnach. But that was it for Reindl as Arkansas gambled, bringing in Kole Ramage to face one of Oregon State’s most dangerous hitters.
Ramage, in one of the game’s biggest moments, delivered by striking out Larnach and then getting Ruschman to ground out to end the threat.
The Razorbacks didn’t waste any time in mounting a comeback, scoring twice in the bottom of the fifth to take the lead.
With one out, Casey Martin laced a single through the right side.
From there, the baseball gods started to smile on Arkansas, as Heston Kjerstad blooped a ball down the left field line that fell in for a single.
To make matters worse for Oregon State, Luke Bonfield blooped another ball into shallow left, just out of the center fielder’s reach.
Martin utilized blazing speed to tie the game, scoring all the way from second and sliding in just ahead of the throw while Kjerstad took second.
One out later, Shaddy singled to left, bringing home Kjerstad as Arkansas took a 3-2 lead.