Oregon State, Arkansas to play again with a title on the line

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.

Quotable

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.

Will Arkansas pitchers prevail? OSU hitters to state their case

Fans of the Arkansas Razorbacks have been “calling the hogs” in the state of Nebraska for more than a week, and who could blame them?

They’re probably warming up again right now, as we, err, speak.

Here’s why:

So far, the Razorbacks are undefeated in Omaha at the College World Series. They’re 3-0 and playing great in all phases of the game.

Perhaps more importantly, they’re pitching more effectively at the moment than the 4-1 Oregon State Beavers.

As a result, the Arkansas bullpen has also worked fewer innings than its counterpart since the tournament opened on June 16.

Given the disparity, even the most neutral observers likely favor the Hogs to beat the Beavers in the finals, a best-of-three series that starts Monday night at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha.

But whether such conventional analysis proves accurate in this case, I don’t know if I’m buying into that or not.

I don’t know how you can ever count out an Oregon State offense that’s averaged nearly 10 runs per game in five CWS games.

Count ’em. The Beavers have scored 48 runs in five-game ride to the CWS finals.

From what I’ve seen on television, I’m not sure Nick Madrigal, Trevor Larnach and Adley Rutschman and those guys couldn’t, on a good day, beat just about any pitcher in the nation.

Against Arkansas, they’ll face Blaine Knight (13-0, 2.88) in the opener, followed by Kacey Murphy (8-5, 3.15) and, if necessary, Isaiah Campbell (5-6, 4.12).

They’ll also likely see a lot of Barrett Loseke, Jake Reindl and Matt Cronin out of the bullpen.

That’s the heart of a staff that has withstood challenges from solid offensive teams in Texas, Texas Tech and No. 1 Florida.

It’s a staff that has held opponents to a combined 11 runs in Omaha in an impressive three-game stretch.

Then again, I also think Madrigal and Co. are extraordinary talents that could cause major problems, forcing the Razorbacks to go deeper into their rotation than anyone they’ve seen at the CWS thus far.

Who will win? I don’t know.

I just really like Oregon State’s swagger right now, and, in spite of spotty pitching from Luke Heimlich and Bryce Fehmel, I strongly suspect this series will go the distance.

I think, for certain, we’ll see three highly entertaining baseball games.

Notable

Arkansas is shooting for its first national title in baseball. The Razorbacks last reached the CWS finals in 1979.

Oregon State won titles previously at the CWS in 2006 and 2007. The Beavers haven’t been back to the CWS finals since.

Quotable

Oregon State coach Pat Casey:

“What I’ve seen of Arkansas is what everybody else has seen, pretty darned good,” Casey said. “I don’t know if I’ve seen a more complete team: Pitching, defense, speed, power.”

Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn:

“Once we got here and watched them play, I told Pat that I figured that they would fight their way through like they did,” Van Horn said. “And I think it’s going to be a great series.”

Inside scoop

Here are stories that appeared in Monday’s editions of the Corvallis (Oregon) Gazette-Times and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Fletcher-led Arkansas wins again, downs Texas Tech, 7-4

Riding Dominic Fletcher’s four hits and four RBI, the Arkansas Razorbacks built a five-run lead and then withstood a ninth-inning rally, turning back the Texas Tech Red Raiders 7-4 Wednesday to remain undefeated at the College World Series.

In the bottom of the ninth, the Red Raiders scored twice off reliever Matt Cronin on Cody Farhat’s two-run single.

But Cronin retired three straight batters, helping the No. 5-seeded Hogs improve to 2-0 in the tournament. Ninth-seeded Texas Tech fell to 1-1 and dropped into an elimination game against Florida.

The Red Raiders are scheduled to play the top-seeded Gators Thursday night. The winner would advance to meet the Razorbacks Friday in the Bracket 2 finals.

Arkansas is now one victory away from a berth in the CWS title round.

The Razorbacks have put themselves into a commanding position by beating Texas and Texas Tech, two former rivals from the old Southwest Conference that now play in the Big 12.

How it happened

Dominic Fletcher and Carson Shaddy delivered back-to-back RBI singles in the top of the eighth, helping Arkansas open a 7-2 lead on Texas Tech.

Fletcher, who swings a quick bat from the left side, improved his already prolific day at the plate to 4-for-4, with 4 RBI.

In two games at the College World Series, the 5-foot-9 sophomore from Cypress, California, is now 6 for 9 with 6 RBI.

Meanwhile, Arkansas relief pitcher Barrett Loseke has cooled off the Texas Tech offense.

He has struck out five in three scoreless innings.

But, at this point, Arkansas is going deeper into the bullpen, bringing in lefty Matt Cronin with a runner on first in the bottom of the eighth.

Cronin retired the side, allowing the Hogs to take a comfortable five-run lead into the ninth.

Brian Klein’s two-run double in the fifth inning has given new life to the Texas Tech Red Raiders.

The Red Raiders pulled to within 5-2 of the Arkansas Razorbacks when Klein pulled a ball into the right field corner, scoring Michael Davis and Cody Farhat.

Davis reached base when he beat a throw to first base from the catcher, who couldn’t handle a third strike. Later, Farhat walked, setting the table for Klein to hit a drive off Arkansas starter Kayce Murphy.

Barrett Loseke replaced Murphy and retired Josh Jung, Texas Tech’s leading hitter, who grounded out.

In the sixth, Texas Tech continued to build some momentum behind relief pitcher Jose Quezada, who gave up a hit but let his defense do the work on an inning-ending double play.

Dominic Fletcher pounded a solo homer to right to highlight a two-run fourth inning for Arkansas.

Meanwhile, pitcher Kacey Murphy continued to dominate Texas Tech hitters.

As a result, the Razorbacks took a 5-0 lead on the Red Raiders into the fifth Wednesday at the College World Series.

Fletcher and Murphy have emerged as the dominant players so far in a winners’ bracket game between the two former rivals in the old Southwest Conference, both 1-0 in the double-elimination tournament.

Fletcher, a sophomore from California, has produced two hits and three RBI. Murphy is working on a one-hit shutout with five strikeouts.

Arkansas is now representing the Southeastern Conference. Texas Tech is in the Big 12.

After a delayed start to the first game of the day at the College World Series, the Arkansas Razorbacks took a 3-0 lead on Texas Tech after three innings.

Arkansas scored twice in the top of the first inning on a two-run double by Dominic Fletcher.

The play was ruled a double after Texas Tech outfielders Cody Farhat and Gabe Holt collided while trying to make the catch.

The Razorbacks made it 3-0 when senior Jared Gates led off the top of the second with a solo home run.

Arkansas escaped trouble in the bottom half when Razorbacks left fielder Heston Kjerstad made a running catch of Farhat’s drive to the fence.

The Razorbacks later closed the inning when catcher Grant Koch threw out Cameron Warren trying to steal second base.

Arkansas’ pitching started to dominate in the bottom of the third when lefthander Kacey Murphy retired the side by striking out Braxton Fulford, Holt and Brian Klein.