OMAHA, Neb. — From his perspective on the edge of the first-base dugout on Wednesday night, then in the on-deck circle as Trevor Larnach launched the shot heard ’round the college baseball world, Adley Rutschman could only admire the resolve of his Oregon State teammates, who have proved — if nothing else — that they won’t go down easy.
Baseball is unforgiving, said Pat Casey, coach of the Beavers, who won back-to-back national titles more than a decade ago and will aim Thursday for a third after his team beat Arkansas 5-3 in dramatic fashion to even the best-of-three College World Series finals at one game apiece.
For 17 innings this week, the game was unforgiving in every way to the Beavers. They lost momentum on an odd baserunning call at second base Tuesday night that took a run off the scoreboard and fueled the Razorbacks’ lone offensive surge in a Game 1 win for Arkansas.
Game 2 on Wednesday brought more misfortune for Oregon State. A pair of bleeders fell in left field as Arkansas scored twice in the fifth inning. The Beavers uncharacteristically failed to capitalize three times with runners at third base and less than one out.
“So yeah,” Casey said, “we were looking for something good to happen.”
Something good for Oregon State happened with two outs in the top of the ninth as Larnach and Cadyn Grenier took center stage.
Which brings us back to Rutschman, the Beavers’ sophomore catcher who’s performed like the best player at this CWS over 12 days. He homered in the fourth inning Wednesday. But amid the decisive series of events, he stood and watched, waiting for his turn as a pair of first-round picks in the recent Major League Baseball amateur draft swung bats out on the dirt before him.
If Oregon State wins the national championship on Thursday (6:30 p.m. ET, ESPN and the ESPN App), history will show that Grenier and Larnach turned the tide in this series at the last possible moment.
“Just to watch it unfold,” Rutschman said, “you know, watch our team come together, I had all the confidence in the world in Cadyn and Trevor. But to have that kind of roller coaster of emotions, I can’t ask for anything more.”
With two outs and Arkansas closer Matt Cronin on the mound, Grenier fouled a 1-1 pitch toward the seats in shallow right field. Right fielder Eric Cole, first baseman Jared Gates and second baseman Carson Shaddy gave chase.
After the Razorbacks misplay a popup in foul territory that would have ended the game, the Beavers deliver the tying run.
Any one of the three appeared in position to make the catch and set off a celebration.
Shaddy said he heard no one call for the ball. He overran the play. It dropped between the trio. A collective gasp overcame the stadium.
“You know,” Shaddy said, “it’s a tough play.”
A break, finally, for Oregon State. For Grenier, a “gift,” he said. He described it as “new life.”
And he ripped a 2-2 pitch from Cronin into left field, scoring Zach Clayton from third base to even the score 3-3. Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn shuffled in the third-base dugout, but he left Cronin to get out of his own mess. The Hogs, after all, were 42-0 this season when they led after eight innings.
No more. Larnach pummeled a 2-0 pitch from Cronin into the right-field bullpen. Rutschman, up next, and Grenier met Larnach at the plate to celebrate.
“Go up there expecting a fastball and do damage with it when you get the chance,” Grenier said. “And that’s what Trevor did.”
How do the Razorbacks recover?
“We get to play one more game,” Van Horn said. “What more could you ask for? You’ve got to move on. You can’t take it back, you know. It’s over.”
It could have been over on Wednesday. Instead, Oregon State won for a fifth time in Omaha over the past 10 days when facing elimination — unforgiving all the way down to their final strike.