The Oregon State Beavers Return To Omaha

Perhaps it is a good sign for the Oregon State Beavers that a team clad in black and orange has won two of the past three Major League World Series.  After a five year hiatus, Pat Casey has the Beavs headed back to the promise land where they will try to follow the San Francisco Giants’ lead and put the championship trophy into the hands of the black and orange once again.

Most baseball fans in Oregon recall the magical run from 2006-2007 that saw the Beavers bring home back-to-back College World Series titles. The 2006 team was chalk full of talent, led by the one-two punch of Dallas Buck and Jonah Nickerson on the mound and the bats of Darwin Barney, Cole Gillespie and Tyler Graham. While many saw the ’06 title in the making during the regular season, the ’07 run was much more improbable. OSU lost its pair of aces and much of its offensive clout to the MLB draft and graduation, and the Beavers finished conference play at a dismal mark of 10-14. After being shipped to the Charlottesville Regional in Virginia, the Beavers beat Rutgers 5-1 before falling to Virginia 7-4. Whether it was players from the ’06 team or Casey himself, someone gave the speech of a lifetime as the Beavs went on to win their final 10 games, capture the title and become the fifth team in NCAA history to pull off the back-to-back feat.

The 2013 squad has been ranked in the top 10 all season long and the Beavers finished Pac-12 play with a record of 24-6. OSU forced its way back to the World Series by taking a 4-0 lead over Kansas State on Monday and holding off a comeback effort to win 4-3. This year’s squad relies on a nucleus of offensive talent and several professional-caliber arms in the rotation. Michael Conforto is batting .320, leads the squad with 11 home runs and has driven in 45. Dylan Davis tops OSU with an average of .343 with five home runs, 58 RBI and 22 doubles. Andy Peterson, like Conforto, has played in all 61 games and is hitting .329 with 45 runs scored and a team-high 13 stolen bases.

From the mound, the trio of Andrew Moore, Ben Wetzler and Matt Boyd have done the heavy lifting, combining to go 33-5. Boyd leads the team in innings pitched (122 2/3) and strikeouts (110) and Moore is not far behind with 70 strikeouts in 119 innings pitched and an ERA of 1.36. Scott Shultz has struck out 32 and walked just eight in 40 innings en route to his team-high 10 saves. The team’s WHIP of 1.06 and ERA of 2.22 show that its strength lies within its arms and suggest Casey has a plethora of options that he is confident in.

The third-ranked Beavers take on Mississippi State on Saturday in game one of the tournament. Obviously, none of the players on the roster were part of OSU’s championship runs, exposing the challenge of winning a title in an inevitably limited college career. The team may look to players like Wetzler, who took home a state championship during his time at Clackamas High School, or perhaps to their fellow Oregon school Linfield College which captured the NCAA Division III national title in May. Maybe they’ll even gather inspiration from their fellow black and orange Giants. Ultimately, it will come down to Casey, the man who has been there and back – twice – and who has established himself as one of the top college coaches in the nation. In an already great year for baseball in Oregon, Beaver Nation will rise to its feet and cheer on the black and orange, clinging to the memory of ’06 and ’07. Somewhere Mitch Canham, the original O-State Baller, will be watching with a smile.

Evan O'Kelly is on Twitter. Follow him at @evo5giants

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