Oregon State has played like the nation’s best team throughout the 2017 season.
The Beavers’ credentials are off the charts, with a 54-4 overall record and a 21-game winning streak entering the College World Series Saturday in Omaha, Nebraska.
There’s a reason they are the No. 1 national seed in the NCAA Division I Baseball Championship — the Beavers have dominated every opponent thus far in the postseason.
Will that stellar play continue in the CWS, billed as “The Greatest Show on Dirt?”
“I think any time we take the field we feel like we’re the best team,” said second baseman Nick Madrigal, who has been named to several All-American teams along with pitcher Jake Thompson. “I think that’s the attitude you have to have.”
OSU opens at noon Saturday (ESPN) against Cal State Fullerton (39-22). The eight-team field includes five of the top eight national seeds – OSU, No. 3 Florida, No. 4 LSU, No. 6 TCU and No. 7 Louisville. Three of them – the Beavers, LSU and Cal State Fullerton — have previously won national championships.
OSU coach Pat Casey, who led the Beavers to back-to-back national titles in 2006 and 2007, is excited to be back in Omaha for the fifth time.
“ The players are treating me. They won the games,” Casey said.
The 54 wins is a single-season school record. There have been winning streaks of 23 and 21 games, and a conference record 27 victories in league games.
The 2017 Beavers are a typical Casey team, built on pitching and defense. OSU leads the nation with a team earned run average of 1.80; as a bonus, their .296 batting average is the highest among the CWS participants.
Yale coach John Stuper said the Beavers were “destined for Omaha” after the Corvallis Regional, and Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said they would be “tough to stop” after OSU swept the Commodores in the best-of-three Corvallis Super Regional.
“We’re lucky enough to be one of the top eight teams going into this weekend and we’re just gonna go out there, compete and try to get after (it) and get the national championship,” said first baseman KJ Harrison, who swatted a three-run homer in both games against Vanderbilt.
The Beavers will not be at full strength in Omaha.
Luke Heimlich, whose criminal history as a registered sex offender was first reported June 8 by The Oregonian, announced in a statement Thursday that he will not accompany the team to Omaha.
Heimlich, the Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year, did not play in the Corvallis Super Regional and the Beavers still swept Vanderbilt, winning the clinching second game 9-2 behind Bryce Fehmel’s five-hit, 10-strikeout gem.
If the Beavers have an extended stay in the CWS, their pitching depth will be tested. There are two, four-team double-elimination brackets, with the two winners meeting in a best-of-three championship series, concluding June 27 or June 28.
Thompson (14-0, 1.52 ERA) is expected to start in Saturday’s opener against Fullerton's Connor Seabold (11-5, 3.01). Both pitchers were selected Tuesday in the third round of the 2017 Major League Baseball Draft.
The stage and stadium may be bigger – TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha has a seating capacity of 24,000 — but Fehmel said the Beavers will take the same approach they've had all season to the CWS.
“We just play together and want each other to do well, so it’s pretty much the same mindset going into Omaha,” Fehmel said.
Cal State Fullerton is no stranger to Omaha with 18 World Series appearances in its storied history, including four national championships, the last one coming in 2004.
“They’ve been there so many times,” Casey said. “Their tradition is great.”
The Beavers also reside in the pantheon of college baseball powers. OSU’s rise began in 2005 with a run of three consecutive CWS appearances. The teams last met in their opening games of the 2007 CWS, with OSU winning 3-2 en route to repeating as national champions.
Senior pitcher Max Engelbekt is the only OSU player who has been to the CWS. He was part of the 2013 team, but did not play in Omaha.
Casey and his staff have a wealth of CWS experience. Tyler Graham, director of player development, was an outfielder on the 2006 national championship team. Assistant coach Andy Jenkins, a South Salem High School graduate, was a first baseman on the Beavers’ 2005 team that reached the CWS for the first time since 1952.
“It’s special, it’s big, but it’s just another game and we’ve gotta play it like that," Casey said. "But we also have to understand how good the competition is. I think we’ll do a good job of doing that.”
Five OSU players were selected in this week’s MLB Draft: pitcher Drew Rasmussen (first round, Tampa Bay Rays), Harrison (third round, Milwaukee Brewers), Thompson (fourth round, Boston Red Sox), third baseman Michael Gretler (39th round, Pittsburgh Pirates) and Engelbrekt (40th round, Washington Nationals).
Based on projected slot values by Baseball America, Rasmussen’s signing bonus would be $2.1 million.
“I asked all the pitchers if they thought Ras had been online looking at new cars yet,” Casey joked.
For now, the recently drafted players are focused on helping OSU hang another national championship banner at Goss Stadium.
“It’s been nothing but a blessing and I’m truly honored and thankful to be in this position,” Harrison said of being selected in the MBL Draft. “(But) we’re not done yet.”
ghorowitz@StatesmanJournal.com, or Twitter.com/ghorowitz
College World Series
Where: TD Ameritrade Park, Omaha, Nebraska
When: Saturday through June 28
Bracket 1: No. 1 national seed OSU (54-4), Cal State Fullerton (39-22), Florida State (45-21), No. 4 seed LSU (48-17)
Bracket 2: Texas A&M (41-21), No. 7 seed Louisville (52-10), No. 6 seed TCU (47-16), No. 3 seed Florida (47-18)
Format: Two four-team, double-elimination brackets. Winners of each bracket meet in the best-of-three championship series.
Schedule: Noon Saturday, OSU vs. Cal State Fullerton (ESPN). The winner of Game 1 plays the winner of Game 2 between Florida State and LSU, 4 p.m. Monday (ESPN); the loser of Game 1 vs. the loser of Game 2 plays an elimination game, 11 a.m. Monday (ESPN).
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