In recent years, the Oregon State baseball team put together magical seasons on the way to the College World Series and two national titles.
This year, the Beavers face a program in the super regional in the middle of a special season of its own.
OSU meets Kansas State on Saturday and Sunday, and Monday, if necessary, in a best-of-three series at Goss Stadium. The winner will advance to the CWS in Omaha, Neb., the following weekend.
Saturday’s game is the seventh meeting between the Beavers and Wildcats with the series tied 3-3. The first game dates back to 1971 and the last one was a 13-5 OSU victory early last season.
The Wildcats (44-17) are making their first ever super regional appearance and won a conference title for the first time since 1933.
“It has to come from within the team and we have a bunch of fighters or believers, and that is a big part of it,” coach Brad Hill said to the media after winning the Manhattan Regional last weekend. “You have got to be tough to be able to get through our conference and win a championship like we did.”
Kansas State set a school record for the most wins in a season. The Big 12 title gave the athletic program a sweep of conference championships for the top three men’s teams.
The Wildcats became the second Big 12 program and fourth in the nation since the Bowl Championship Series era began in 1998 to win a conference title in football, men’s basketball and baseball in the same school year.
“I have to give a shout out to the Big 12 Conference,” Hill said. “I just think our conference prepared us for this. Every game was tight. The conference was parity, up and down; every team was capable of beating anybody.”
Hill is in his 10th season with the Wildcats and has steadily improved the program. They’ve qualified for the NCAA tournament four times in the last five years.
Kansas State went 2-1 in its conference tournament, losing the title game to Oklahoma. They bounced back to sweep their regional with victories over Wichita State, Bryant and Arkansas.
The first two games were won with the bat. Kansas State hits .324 as a team with 28 home runs. There are eight regulars in the lineup with an average of .312 or better.
Those numbers are better than OSU’s. The Beavers average .290 at the plate with 26 home runs. The match up in the series comes down to Kansas State’s hitting vs. OSU’s pitching with a 2.13 ERA.
Second baseman Ross Kivett is Kansas State’s leader. He’s the Big 12 Player of the Year, and a third-team Collegiate Baseball All-American.
He averages .363 with three home runs and 39 RBIs. He’s the offensive catalyst from the leadoff spot with a .444 on-base percentage.
Other key hitters at the center of the lineup are shortstop Austin Fischer (.363), first baseman Shane Conlon (.350) and center fielder Jared King (.327).
The big run producers are Conlon with seven home runs and 28 RBIs and King with six home runs and 51 RBIs.
“We have one of the best hitting ballclubs in the nation and I do not think any game is really out of reach,” closer Jake Matthys said. “We’ve been picking each other up all year.”
The pitching hasn’t been consistent with a 3.86 ERA. The bullpen, however, has been the strength.
Matthys, who leads the team in wins, is 8-1 with nine saves and a 1.96 ERA. He is the Big 12 Reliever of the Year and the Freshman of the Year.
He’s aided by Tanner Witt, who is also the starting left fielder, at the back end of the games. Witt has seven saves.
The starting pitching is in flux. The rotation was different in the Big 12 tournament than the regional. Blake McFadden (6-2) and Levi MaVorhis (5-0) started games in both tournaments but in different spots.
Corvallis Super Regional
SATURDAY: Kansas State at Oregon State, 4 p.m.
SUNDAY: Kansas State at Oregon State, 7 p.m.
MONDAY: Kansas State at Oregon State, 4 p.m. (if necessary)
RECORDS: Kansas State 44-17; Oregon State 48-10
TV/RADIO: All games on ESPNU (411) and KEJO (1240 AM)