Oregon State beats Mississippi State, advances to CWS finals

Tyler Malone slugged a three-run homer to support the clutch pitching of freshman starter Kevin Abel Saturday night, lifting the Oregon State Beavers into the College World Series finals with a 5-2 victory over the Mississippi State Bulldogs.

Mississippi State battled to give itself a chance in the bottom of the ninth by scoring once and loading the bases with two out.

But Beavers reliever Jake Mulholland escaped the jam by coaxing Bulldogs designated hitter Jordan Westburg, a freshman from New Braunfels, into a fielder’s choice ground ball to end it.

In winning a fourth straight game after losing the tournament opener, Oregon State advanced to play Arkansas in a best-of-three series for the NCAA Division I baseball title.

The third-seeded Beavers and the No. 5 Razorbacks open the series Monday night in Omaha, Nebraska.

“I’m proud of our club to fight through the losers’ bracket and get the opportunity to play for a national title,” Oregon State coach Pat Casey told the Corvallis Gazette-Times. “It’s special. Our guys, as you could see, were running on fumes.”

Adley Rutschman and Michael Gretler started the scoring in the third inning with RBI singles off Mississippi State ace Ethan Small. Malone, a sophomore from Roseville, California, followed with his eighth homer of the season to make it 5-0.

Meanwhile, Abel worked seven full innings, yielding only a run on three hits. He walked three and struck out five. Mississippi State scored a run in the third and had opportunities to get more in the fifth and sixth, only to come up empty.

In the fifth, with a runner aboard, Jake Mangum tried to stretch a single into a double but got thrown out at second base to end the inning.

In the sixth, with runners at second and third and Abel struggling with his control, Elijah MacNamee hit into a bang-bang double play to kill the rally.

MacNamee’s liner was snared by Gretler at third, who turned and fired to second base to double off Hunter Stovall for the last out.

In the ninth, a couple of two-out walks and an RBI single by Luke Alexander pulled the Bulldogs to within 5-2. But with the bases loaded, Mulholland put an end Mississippi State’s improbable playoff run.

Westburg, an all-state shortstop last year at New Braunfels High School, hit a ball to short that was bobbled briefly.

But Cadyn Grenier regained control and flipped to second for the force, sealing Oregon State’s second victory over Mississippi State in two days.

Westburg finished the game 0 for 4 at the plate. He was 0 for 6 in two games since a 3-hit, 7-RBI performance Tuesday afternooon against North Carolina.

Notable

Oregon State won CWS titles in 2006 and 2007 under Casey but hasn’t been able to reach the finals since then.

Mississippi State interim coach Gary Henderson told reporters he hoped to be back as head coach next season.

Quotable

Commenting on the team’s playoff run, Henderson told the the Jackson Clarion-Ledger:

“… It’s been an unbelievable time in my life, for a guy like me who has coached as long as I have and never been close to anything like this.”

Records

Oregon State 53-11-1
Mississippi State 39-29

Mississippi State pitcher Ethan Small shakes off freak injury

Mississippi State pitcher Ethan Small is expected to start Saturday night against Oregon State despite suffering an injury to his left (throwing) elbow on Friday at the College World Series.

Small, the Bulldogs’ ace, was hurt while playing catch during warmups. Positioned outside the left field line, Small went down after a batted ball by one of his teammates struck him.

“I was catching a ball from someone throwing in,” Small said in a video posted by the Jackson (Mississippi) Clarion Ledger. “They said, ‘Heads up.’ I turned, and my arm goes back here, and it just popped me on the inside.

“Initial reaction was like, ‘Oh, crap.’ It kind of hurt. And then about two minutes later it went down. Took some Tylenol. Played catch, and it was fine.”

Small (5-3, 2.89) pitched Mississippi State to a 1-0 victory over Washington last Saturday on the first day of the CWS.

In that effort, he worked seven scoreless innings and struck out five with no walks.

Earlier in the Super Regional round, Small was roughed up in a 10-8 victory at Vanderbilt, during which he yielded four runs (three earned) in four innings.

Oregon State has been on an offensive tear. The Beavers have scored 92 runs in nine NCAA tournament games. They dropped an 8-6 decision to North Carolina in a CWS opener last Saturday.

But since then, the No. 3 seeded team in the tournament has pounded out victories over Washington (14-5), North Carolina (11-6) and Mississippi State (12-2). Oregon State lashed Mississippi State pitching for 15 hits on Friday afternoon.

“A lot of guys are feeling comfortable in the box,” Oregon State infielder Nick Madrigal told the Corvallis (Oregon) Gazette-Times. “We’ve had some great at-bats, taking some walks when pitches have been out of the zone and we’ve squared some balls up when they do come in.

“I think everyone feels really good in the box, and we are swinging the bats pretty well right now.”

Mississippi State wasn’t among the 16 nationally seeded teams coming in to the tournament. But it has shown great resilience on the first two weekends, winning on the road at the Tallahassee Regional and in the Super Regional at Vanderbilt.

The Beavers haven’t announced a pitcher, but No. 3 starter Kevin Abel (5-1, 3.50) is rested, according to the Gazette-Times.

Madrigal, Larnach power Oregon State past Mississippi State

Nick Madrigal and Trevor Larnach had three hits apiece to power the Oregon State Beavers past the Mississippi State Bulldogs 12-2 Friday at the College World Series.

With the victory, Oregon State averted elimination from the tournament and forced a deciding game against Mississippi State to determine the Bracket 1 representative in the CWS title series.

Oregon State and Mississippi State are scheduled to play again Saturday afternoon at Omaha, Nebraska.

Madrigal and Larnach, who both grew up in California, were picked on the first round of the recent Major League Baseball player draft.

Madrigal, from Elk Grove, was the fourth overall choice by the Chicago White Sox. Larnach, from Pleasant Hill, was the 20th pick by the Minnesota Twins.

Both figured in the rally that produced a Beavers’ run in the first inning that tied the score, 1-1. Oregon State scored five runs in the second to take charge.

In the Beavers’ first at bat, Madrigal singled and stole second and third. Larnach laced an RBI single to drive him in.

Batting third in the lineup, Larnach had three RBI.

Records

Oregon State 52-11-1
Mississippi State 39-28

Going ‘bananas’ for Westburg at the College World Series

The legend of the “Banana Man” has grown into a full-fledged phenomenon at the College World Series.

Jordan Westburg, a Mississippi State freshman from New Braunfels High School, smashed a grand slam Tuesday morning in the second inning of a winners’ bracket game against North Carolina.

As the player credited with inspiring a banana-related media buzz at the tournament in Omaha, Nebraska, he also totaled three hits and tied a CWS record with seven RBI in the Bulldogs’ 12-2 victory over the Tar Heels.

“Obviously a day he and his family will remember forever,” Bulldogs coach Gary Henderson told Mike Lopresti, writing for ncaa.com.

In the wake of the rout, Mississippi State (2-0 in the tournament) moved to within one win of the championship round.

North Carolina (1-1) and Oregon State (1-1) will play Wednesday to stay alive in Bracket 1 of the CWS, with the winner moving on to meet Mississippi State on Friday.

On Tuesday morning, Westburg was in the Mississippi State lineup as a designated hitter, batting ninth. For the season, he had played in only 39 of his team’s 65 games.

A modest .243 hitter, he was coming off an 0-for-3 performance in the Bulldogs’ CWS opener, a 1-0 victory over the Washington Huskies on Saturday.

But in the top of the second inning against the Tar Heels, Westburg delivered for his team.

With two outs and facing a 1-2 count, he stepped into a hanging breaking pitch from Tar Heels’ righthander Austin Bergner and drilled it into the left field grandstands for the 49th grand slam in CWS history.

Westburg, in a postgame interview with ESPN, called it “the greatest feeling ever.”

“That’s what every ball player strives to accomplish and dreams about,” he said. “Just being in that spot and knowing that my teammates had confidence in me and I had confidence in myself, I think that’s what helped me a little bit.”

Rounding the bases for only his second home run of the season, the euphoria of the moment kicked in.

“I don’t know what I was thinking,” he said. “It was just pure joy. In the second inning, to be able to give my team a lead. They scored first. It was huge. Just knowing that I could help my team that way was awesome.”

On social media, Westburg has been called “The Banana Man,” a reference to a moment of levity during the NCAA playoffs earlier this month.

During a June 3 NCAA tournament game at Tallahassee, Florida, Westburg ate a banana in the dugout as a snack.

Afterward, he reportedly picked up another banana and proceeded to start goofing around, holding it to his ear as if he were on the phone.

Also, according to a story in the Omaha World Herald, he pretended it was a radar gun.

The moment was captured on ESPN, which prompted the start of more and more social media posts.

When Westburg hit his grand slam Tuesday, television cameras captured the image of two fans dressed as bananas, celebrating with their fists in the air.

Fans were still going bananas in an eighth-run eighth inning when Westburg picked up two hits.

He singled and scored on one at bat, and then slapped a three-run double on the other.

After the game, ESPN went directly to an interview on the field with Westburg, who was holding his “lucky banana” at his side as he discussed his historic day and the apparent magic of the yellow fruit.

“It’s the best banana ever,” he said. “I’m just thankful I had a good day. So, yeah, this is definitely the best banana ever.”

Growing up in New Braunfels

Westburg played at New Braunfels High School under coach Bobby Alford.

He was a Texas High School Baseball Coaches Association (THSBCSA) first team All-State at shortstop in both 2016 and 2017.

Last season, Westburg also was the District 27-6A Most Valuable Player after hitting .457 for the Unicorns. He hit .406 as a junior in 2016.

Westburg played baseball, football and basketball at New Braunfels.

At Mississippi State, he started his college career in a program that was rocked with controversy in February with the resignation of coach Andy Cannizaro.

Officials responded by promoting Henderson from an assistant’s role into the head coaching job on an interim basis.

On the road to Omaha

Mississippi State steadied itself under Henderson, finished tied for third in the SEC West and gained momentum with a sweep of No. 1 Florida at the end of the regular season.

In its NCAA playoff opener, the Bulldogs were blown out, falling 20-10 to Oklahoma at Tallahassee, Florida.

Later, they won four elimination games in a row to advance.

At the Super Regional, they won two of three on the road at Vanderbilt to make it to Omaha.

“I think we just don’t have any give up in ourselves” Westburg said. “I think this whole team is just fighting. No matter what the score is. No matter what the situation is.

“We just play like some Bulldogs, honestly. We’re just going to keep trying to accomplish that every game.”

CWS Bracket 1 schedule

Wednesday

North Carolina vs. Oregon State, 2 p.m., elimination game

Friday

Mississippi State vs. North Carolina/Oregon State, 2 p.m.

Mississippi State on a roll heading into SEC tournament

The Mississippi State Bulldogs surged into the Baseball America Top 25 with a sweep of top-ranked Florida last weekend, according to the poll released Monday.

The Bulldogs, playing at home, downed the Gators 6-3, 12-4 and 13-6 in the biggest surprise of the week in the Southeastern Conference.

Despite the three losses, Florida remained No. 1 in the national rankings leading into the SEC tournament that starts Tuesday at Hoover, Ala.

The Bulldogs open play in the tournament ranked 25th.

Baseball America
Top 25 – May 21

1. Florida 41-15 SEC
2. Oregon State 42-9-1 Pac-12
3. Stanford 43-8 Pac-12
4. Ole Miss 42-14 SEC
5. North Carolina 37-17 ACC
6. Clemson 43-13 ACC
7. Texas Tech 38-15 Big 12
8. Georgia 37-17 SEC
9. Arkansas 37-17 SEC
10. N.C. State 40-14 ACC
11. Minnesota 37-13 Big Ten
12. Duke 39-14 ACC
13. Florida State 39-17 ACC
14. Texas 37-18 Big 12
15. Coastal Carolina 38-17 Sun Belt
16. UCLA 35-17 Pac-12
17. Southern Miss 39-15 Conference USA
18. Houston 33-21 American
19. East Carolina 39-15 American
20. Stetson 41-11 Atlantic Sun
21. Tennessee Tech 46-7 Ohio Valley
22. South Carolina 32-22 SEC
23. Auburn 37-19 SEC
24. Missouri State 35-15 Missouri Valley
25. Mississippi State 31-24 SEC

Conference tournaments

SEC — at Hoover, Ala., Tuesday – Sunday
Big 12 — at Oklahoma City, Wednesday – Sunday
Big Ten — at Omaha, Neb., Wednesday – Sunday
ACC — at Durham, N.C., Tuesday – Sunday
Pac-12 — No tournament
American — at Clearwater, Fla., Tuesday – Sunday
Big East — at Mason, Ohio, Thursday – Sunday
Conference USA — at Biloxi, Miss., Wednesday – Sunday
Sun Belt — at Lafayette, La., Tuesday – Sunday
Southland — at Sugar Land, Wednesday – Saturday

NCAA projections

D1 Baseball, in its weekly projections of the 64-team NCAA tournament, listed four teams from both the SEC and from the Atlantic Coast Conference as No. 1 seeds hosting first-roud regionals.

The website projected that Florida, Georgia, Arkansas and Ole Miss from the SEC and North Carolina, North Carolina State, Florida State and Clemson from the ACC all would host.

Two teams from the Big 12 — both Texas Tech and Texas — are also projected as No. 1s hosting on the first weekend.

Texas won the Big 12 regular-season title last weekend after sweeping a three-game series against TCU.

Other teams from the state projected to make it into the NCAA field include Houston (a No. 2 seed), Texas A&M, Baylor, Dallas Baptist and Sam Houston State (all No. 3s) and Texas Southern (as a No. 4).

Sam Houston State claimed the Southland Conference title in San Antonio last week with a sweep of Incarnate Word.

Incarnate Word head baseball coach Patrick Hallmark (right) talks things over with Sam Houston State coach Matt Deggs during Thursday night's game. - photo by Joe Alexander

Incarnate Word head baseball coach Patrick Hallmark (right) talks things over with Sam Houston State coach Matt Deggs during Thursday night’s game. – photo by Joe Alexander