Oregon State coach Pat Casey was searching for one quality start from his pitching staff at the College World Series.
He got it Saturday night from freshman Kevin Abel.
The right-hander allowed one run over seven innings and the Beavers held on for a 5-2 win over Mississippi State in an elimination game. Oregon State advances to play Arkansas in the best-of-three championship final that begins Monday at TD Ameritrade Park.
The Beavers took control with a five-run third inning but the Bulldogs — who made comeback victories a specialty this season — tried their best to do it again in the ninth. They brought the winning run to the plate but came up short. They ended the season 39-29.
“Mississippi State, what a tremendous club they have,” Casey said. “The job (coach) Gary Henderson has done there is second to none.”
Abel’s effort was the first quality start of the series for the Beavers (53-11-1). No starter had gone more than four innings in their four previous tournament games.
Casey mentioned that in the postgame press conference Friday night after the Beavers defeated Mississippi State to stay alive in the double-elimination tourney.
“It was an unbelievable start for Abel,” the coach said Saturday night. “For a freshman kid to pitch like that is really something.”
Henderson agreed that Abel’s three-hit, five-strikeout effort was the key to victory for Oregon State.
“We didn’t get to a spot where we were able to solve him,’’ the coach said. “Congratulations to Pat because he runs a good program and I have a lot of respect for them.”
The Beavers, who scored 37 runs in their three previous CWS games, threatened to take the lead in the second inning. But with runners at second and third and none out, Mississippi State starter Ethan Small got out of the jam.
Oregon State broke through in the third after the first two batters were retired. Cadyn Grenier doubled and Trevor Larnach singled before Adley Rutschman belted an RBI single to center.
Michael Gretler followed with an RBI single before Tyler Malone unloaded a three-run homer to right-center field. It was his eighth home run of the season and gave the Beavers a 5-0 lead.
The Bulldogs got one run back in the bottom of the inning with Rowdey Jordan’s RBI single to right. Mississippi State had runners at the corners with two out, but Abel got Tanner Allen to fly out to end the threat.
The score stayed 5-1 as Abel continued to work through the Bulldogs’ order. He also was the beneficiary of a huge play in the sixth, when Elijah MacNamee lined into an inning-ending double play with runners at second and third.
Closer Jake Mulholland came in for the Beavers in the eighth and worked a 1-2-3 inning. He retired the first two batters in the ninth before the Bulldogs fought to keep their season alive.
MacNamee and Justin Foscue drew walks and Luke Alexander delivered a run-scoring single to left. Pinch-hitter Tanner Poole then was hit by a 0-2 pitch to load the bases for Jordan Westburg.
Westburg, who had a grand slam and seven RBIs in an earlier CWS game, couldn’t repeat that magic. He grounded sharply to shortstop Grenier, who threw to second baseman Nick Madrigal for the forceout.
“A lot of things were going through my mind at that point,” Casey said. “But Mully (Mulholland) got us here and he was still throwing 90 miles per hour, so I thought that was our best option.”
Jordan, who had two hits for the Bulldogs, said his team remained optimistic up until the final out.
“Our attitude was still positive,” he said. “We kept believing but we came up a little short.”
The season ends for Mississippi State, which was seeking its first championship.
“The players did everything we asked,” Henderson said. “I’m so proud of them.”
Play of the game
Sophomore Tyler Malone smacked a three-run homer to the right-center field gap. That capped a five-run third inning for Oregon State.
Star of the game
Oregon State starter Kevin Abel held the Bulldogs to one run over seven innings, surrendering three hits with five strikeouts on 95 pitches. The freshman right-hander retired the first six batters he faced.
With runners on second and third and one out in the sixth inning, clutch-hitting Elijah MacNamee came to the plate. The Bulldogs were down 5-1. They needed a spark. They almost got one. MacNamee smoked a 3-2 pitch. But he lined it right to third baseman Michael Gretler, who tossed the ball to second before Hunter Stovall could scramble back. The double play kept the momentum on Oregon State’s side.
Best defensive play
Nothing flashy, but Oregon State executed a relay throw so perfectly in the fifth inning that it has to be noted. Mississippi State’s Jake Mangum was trying to stretch a single into a double. He didn’t make it. That’s because left fielder Kyle Nobach quickly tracked down the ball in the gap and fired a strike to Cadyn Grenier. The shortstop’s throw to second baseman Nick Madrigal was on the money and the tag caught Mangum’s arm just before his hand hit the base. It was the third out of the fifth.
Bases loaded. Two outs. Bottom of the ninth. It’s baseball at its finest. Mississippi State put together one last rally with its back against the wall. Trailing 5-1 with two outs, the Bulldogs reached with a walk, another walk, an RBI single and a hit batter. Freshman Jordan Westburg came to the plate as the potential winning run. But he grounded out to short, ending the game.
The magic ran out for the postseason darlings. Mississippi State has been eliminated. Credit the Beavers for that. Their offense caught fire at just the right time — and given how much talent they have in that lineup, their weeklong surge in Omaha could easily be sustained into the CWS finals. Good luck with that, Arkansas.