OMAHA, Neb. — A season for the ages came to an unceremonious end amid the thunderous chants of “L-S-U.”
For the second day in a row, No. 1 Oregon State’s bats went silent against a pair of hard-throwing right-handers before a mostly purple-clad crowd at the College World Series.
Caleb Gilbert took advantage of a generous strike zone in 7⅓ magnificent innings while reliever Zack Hess again put it away, sending the fourth-seeded Tigers to a 6-1 victory on a pleasant Midwest Saturday afternoon. LSU (52-18), which defeated the Beavers 3-1 Friday, advances to the best-of-3 championship series.
OSU’s (56-6) historic season is over.
“We faced an unbeatable team these last two games,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “To lose four games the entire season and we beat them two days in a row, it's hard to predict those things. But that's why you have to play the games and our kids embraced the challenge.”
The Beavers, who routed LSU 13-1 Monday night, dropped consecutive games for the first time all year.
OSU compiled two program-record 23-game winning streaks during the season and finished 27-3 in Pac-12 play, the most victories in conference history. The 56 overall wins are also a school record.
“Throughout this whole year we were winning games and feeling good, but even when we were down in games we found ways to come back,” said freshman reliever Brandon Eisert. “To have it come to an end is just too bad.”
In a surprise move, OSU gave the ball to Bryce Fehmel (6-3) four days after the sophomore flummoxed LSU during eight marvelous innings. The righty never settled in Saturday, allowing four runs on four hits with two walks a strikeout in 2⅓ innings.
Michael Papierski's three-run homer with two outs in the second put the Tigers up for good. The switch-hitting junior catcher later hit a solo shot off Eisert, his 11th of the year, for a 5-0 lead in the fourth.
The Beavers, who were the designated visitors, made the decision to go with Fehmel instead of Drew Rasmussen in the morning.
“Bryce had been sharp the last time out and we thought that we could try to turn the game over to (Rasmussen) at the point that we did,” Yeskie said. “(Rasmussen) hasn’t been stretched out the last couple of weeks so it’s tough to ask him to go out there and give you seven strong, and then flip it back around and you’ve got to go beat whoever you get in the next round should you advance. It was just what we thought was best at the time and I think we’ve made plenty of good decisions throughout the year. Today, they got the best of it.”
Rasmussen pitched the final 4⅓, allowing one run on three hits with two strikeouts and no walks. Eisert bridged the gap by giving up just one hit — the long ball to Papierski — in 1⅓ innings.
In his fifth start of the year, Gilbert (7-1) surrendered just two hits with seven strikeouts and a walk. The sophomore righty had faced OSU on Monday and gave up two unearned run on four hits in 2⅔.
Gilbert threw 97 pitches in the longest outing of his college career.
“It's a surreal feeling to be able to pitch your team when the back's against the wall … into the College World Series final,” Gilbert said. “I just had all the faith in the world in my teammates and my coaching staff and just really went out there and pitched my game, tried to attack early with a heater and get ahead and just trust my defense behind me.”
Hess, a freshman, got the final five outs for the second straight day.
Steven Kwan, KJ Harrison and Michael Gretler had the only hits of the game for the Beavers, who collected just two Friday against Alex Lange and Hess.
“I think our guys got a little frustrated early and weren't able to get good swings off,” coach Pat Casey said. “We couldn't get the lead-off man on. Without getting the lead-off man, it's hard to do a lot.”
Harrison reached on an infield single in the fourth while Gretler broke up the shutout with a solo shot in the eighth. Kwan led off the ninth with a single but Hess recorded the final three outs — including a questionable called-third strike to Trevor Larnach — to end the game.
The Beavers struck out nine times, seven looking.
When asked if he felt home plate umpire Greg Street’s strike zone was consistent, Yeskie said “not particularly, no I didn’t.”
“We don’t have kids that make excuses and we’re not going to make any excuses, either. We have to get swings off on the balls that we need to and we’ve got to make better pitches if that’s what’s necessary. We trust our guys and we manage the strike zone very well and we command the strike zone very well, so to see that kind of be rearranged on a particular day… we’ll know more when we go back and review the tape.”
Kramer Robertson went 3 for 3 while Beau Jordan and Papierski collected two hits apiece.
After retiring the first two batters of the second, Fehmel just missed on a pair of outside fastballs and issued a two-out walk to Josh Smith. Jordan then doubled to set up Papierski’s three-run homer to straight away right.
“I put some good swings on fastballs today,” said Papierski, who became the first person to hit two homers in a CWS game since TCU’s Bryan Holaday in 2010. “And after that the wind helped a little bit.”
Robertson walked to lead off the third and reached second when Cadyn Grenier bypassed the double play and chose the guaranteed out at first on a sharp Cole Freeman hit-and-run grounder. Antoine Duplantis singled home Robertson to put LSU up 4-0 and chase Fehmel.
Jordan's solo shot off Rasmussen made it 6-0 in the sixth.
Gretler’s blast was his fifth of the year.