PAPILLION, Neb. — A frightening incident during the Civil War Pac-12 series indirectly led to the ascension of Oregon State’s offense.
In the ninth inning of last month’s finale at Oregon, Nick Madrigal took a Kenyon Yovan fastball off his left hand that resulted in a deep bone bruise. Madrigal, the team’s regular leadoff batter, started just four of the Beavers’ final eight regular-season games and went 1 for 5 in the Corvallis Regional opener against Holy Cross.
With Madrigal experiencing hand soreness, coach Pat Casey decided to have regular two-hole hitter Steven Kwan flip spots with the Pac-12 player of the year. Batting second, Madrigal could swing less and bunt more until the pain subsided.
The new-look lineup, which was meant to be temporary, has terrorized opposing pitchers from the start.
Kwan went 4 for 5 in Game 2 against Yale and 3 for 4 in the finale, winning the regional’s Most Outstanding Player award. Madrigal finished 4 for 4 with four bunt singles in Game 3.
“Coach Casey does a great job with the lineup,” Madrigal said after Wednesday’s practice at Werner Park, home of the Omaha Storm Chasers. The top-seeded Beavers (56-4) will take a 23-game winning streak into Friday’s 12:05 p.m. College World Series game.
“He knows all of us players, knows what our strengths are. Kwan usually gets deep into counts and it’s been working well for us.”
In six games since the switch, both players are 12 for 23 at the plate.
Kwan has scored 11 runs and collected five RBIs while Madrigal has eight RBIs and five runs.
“We just kind of stumbled into it,” Casey said. “(Kwan) certainly made himself an unbelievable leadoff guy. Nick’s kind of more of an aggressive hitter and (Kwan) doesn’t mind getting deep in counts, so it’s a really good situation for us.”
Kwan, a sophomore outfielder, has tried to borrow some of Madrigal’s tricks. Other than the first-at bat of a game, Kwan said his approach at the plate hasn’t changed.
“I want to take some pitches, really let the team see what the pitcher’s got,” Kwan said of the first inning. “And after that, I kind of do things the same way as if I was in the second hole. I kind of watched how Nick does it. Nick’s pretty aggressive early in the counts, so I try to go like that and get a good pitch to hit.”
Kwan opened the CWS with a four-pitch at-bat against Cal State Fullerton, reaching on a catcher’s interference. In Monday’s 13-1 thrashing of LSU, Kwan drag bunted the first pitch he saw for a hit and scored on a Trevor Larnach single.
He has walked three times in two games at TD Ameritrade Park.
“Kwan does a great job of taking and kind of working the pitcher,” Madrigal said. “It makes it a lot easier hitting behind him because he usually puts pressure on the pitcher and makes my job a lot easier.”
The effects can be felt up and down the OSU lineup.
In seven NCAA tournament games, the Beavers are averaging nine runs and 12.1 hits per contest. OSU has outscored the opposition 63-15.
“As a pitcher, there’s nothing more you could ever ask for,” said freshman left-hander Jake Mulholland, who threw 4⅓ innings of no-hit relief in Saturday’s 6-5 win over Cal State Fullerton. “When you get a SportsCenter top 10 play (from Adley Rutschman) followed by (Steven) Kwan’s diving catch, and then we come out and score four runs the next inning to tie the game… I’m just so fortunate.”