Oregon State has won 109 of 127 baseball games over two seasons with mostly the same cast of players. The Beavers see winning a national championship as the only way to validate their body of work.
“Ultimately,” Beavers coach Pat Casey said Sunday, “nobody cares how many games you win unless you win the last one.”
Standing between Oregon State (53-11-1) and the title is Arkansas (47-19) in the best-of-three College World Series finals starting tonight.
The Beavers lost their CWS opener and staved off elimination four times to reach the finals for the first time since 2007, when they won the second of two straight championships.
The Razorbacks swept through their bracket in three games, knocking off defending champion and No. 1 overall seed Florida to make the finals for the first time in the best-of-three era. Arkansas was runner-up in 1979.
Oregon State showed up in Omaha last year as the No. 1 seed and with a 54-4 record, the highest winning percentage (.931) of any team entering the CWS since Texas came in 57-4 (.934) in 1982. The Beavers won their first two games, then lost two straight to LSU in a shocking ending to the season.
The Beavers have been on a redemption tour in 2018 with an everyday lineup including all but one player from last year and a pitching staff that returned two weekend starters.
Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn is in awe of what the Pac-12’s Beavers have accomplished.
“To win that many ballgames, it’s almost amazing to me, because I how hard it is to win,” he said. “We talk about it all the time. How are they doing it? It’s not like they’re in Houston where they can just run down the street and grab players. They’re going all over the place and they’re doing it with kids from their region.”
The Razorbacks, previously in Omaha in 2015, have been ascending since going 26-29 and failing to make the NCAA Tournament in 2016. They lost in a regional final last year and now are in position to play for the title.
Like Oregon State, Arkansas has many of its key contributors back. The Razorbacks also have two of the best freshmen in the country in third baseman Casey Martin and left fielder Heston Kjerstad, who have combined for 27 home runs.
“After the 2015 season when we came to Omaha, we were a little bit on our high horse and we might not have worked as hard as we needed to,” Carson Shaddy said. “Just coming back after that and going through the worst has really put a lot of pressure on us to perform at our best, and that’s what happened the last two years to try to climb back where we need to be.”
Arkansas’ Blaine Knight (13-0) will start tonight, followed by Kacey Murphy (8-5) on Tuesday and Isaiah Campbell (5-6) if a game is necessary Wednesday.
Casey didn’t name a Game 1 starter. Ace Luke Heimlich (16-2) would be coming off four days of rest after not getting out of the third inning in either of his starts in Omaha.