Fueled by a loss at LSU in the regionals in 2012, the Oregon State baseball team returned to Corvallis last fall with eyes on making it to the College World Series in 2013.
That goal was met as the Beavers won the Pac-12 title, then captured regional and super regional titles at home to earn a trip to Omaha, Neb., for their first CWS appearance since 2007.
But the Beavers fell short of adding another championship banner, losing twice to Mississippi State and failing to make it to the championship series.
“We had that feeling in LSU and it was motivating. And now we got a taste of Omaha and it’s just a step further for us,” junior outfielder Michael Conforto said Thursday afternoon as the Beavers are taking part in fall practice. “We made it to Omaha, that was cool and good and everything. And we look back on it and we’re thinking, why was our goal just to be there? I think this year it’s going through Omaha, all the way through. Not to say our goal wasn’t to win the whole thing last year but it was the first hurdle getting there.”
Much like the previous year, that final loss last season has been motivation for the Beavers. The returning players, as well as the newcomers, have spent the past few weeks beginning the process of making a return trip to Omaha.
If they can make it back, they can lean on the experience this past June.
“Getting there, it’s an awe-inspiring experience,” Conforto said. “That first game for us was just like surreal. You look at UCLA, they were there the year before. I talked to a kid who was there both years and he said the second year you go you’re settled in, you feel more comfortable there. Obviously we have a lot of work to do to get there, but we have high expectations and we feel like we can definitely get back there.”
Conforto, fellow junior outfielder Dylan Davis and senior pitcher Ben Wetzler, among others, will need to be key producers and leaders if the Beavers hope to make a return to Omaha.
“I’ve been looking forward to getting back ever since we got back from Omaha,” Davis said. “I was looking forward to getting back in the fall and getting back after it and pushing ourselves to be better than we were last year. It’s been fun.”
This fall has been a bit different than last as the Beavers have a few more holes to fill. That means a few more newcomers as well.
“It’s different because last year we had pretty much the entire team back,” Wetzler said. “This year we have a lot of young guys we need to get on board real quick just so we can start getting ready for that because at first their heads are spinning a little bit the first couple weeks. They have to take in a lot of information and the faster we can get them on our backs and just get them to buy into what we have going here, I think that’s the biggest key to us getting back.”
Added Davis: “You want to create a lot of good team chemistry and make them feel at home and make them understand what we did last year and we want to push it this year. Let them know the feeling it takes and what it takes to get to Omaha.”
Conforto said this has been the toughest fall camp in his three years.
“We’ve had a couple pretty tough weeks of practice and I think it just shows us how much coach (Pat) Casey thinks that we have going this year,” he said. “Definitely the hardest start to a year in my three years. I think that’s good. We’re in awesome shape right now. We’ve been doing a lot more conditioning and stuff. And I think that’s for him to try to get us in shape … and try to get us mentally prepared for the spring.”
Davis said this is the time to get the newcomers acclimated to the program and to learn what it takes to compete at the highest level.
“We need to play as hard as we can and push ourselves like we did in the playoffs and have everybody feel that because we have so many new guys,” he said. “We need to bring them along and make them feel at home and just make sure they know they’re part of the team. They’re here, here for a reason, because they’re good.”
So far so good in both categories, but as Conforto said, “At the same time we have a long way to go.”