AJ Bumpass provided the most important clutch hit in a game of clutch performances Friday night in game two of the NCAA Corvallis Regional.
The Cincinnati senior outfielder’s run-scoring triple to center field in the top of the ninth inning put his team ahead for good, and the fourth-seeded Bearcats held on for a 7-6 win against top-seeded Oregon State at Goss Stadium.
Bumpass was named the American Athletic Conference tournament’s most outstanding player after the Bearcats won four straight games to clinch their first NCAA postseason berth in 45 years.
Friday, he was 5 for 5 with a home run, the triple and three RBIs.
“We wanted to do something we had never done, especially the senior class,” Bumpass said. “Never been to a regional, so I really wanted to make that happen. I was willing to … put it all on the line, my body, to make it happen.”
Cincinnati pitched to Adley Rutschman to lead off the bottom of the ninth after intentionally walking him to bring in a run earlier in the game.
But the Oregon State standout flew out to right field. Beau Philip popped out to second base and Zak Taylor lined out to center to end it.
The Beavers (36-19-1) will try to fight off elimination when they play Creighton at 1 p.m. Saturday. OSU will start Grant Gambrell on the mound
“There’s nothing we can do about tonight,” Beavers coach Pat Bailey said of approaching Saturday. “I’m very disappointed in our effort, and specifically defensively.”
The Beavers had two errors and weren’t able to come down with several seemingly catchable fly balls.
Third-seeded Michigan defeated second-seeded Creighton 6-0 in the regional opener Friday afternoon behind three home runs and Karl Kauffman’s 8 2/3 innings on the mound.
Cincinnati (31-29) and Michigan play at 7 p.m. Saturday in the four-team, double-elimination tournament.
Oregon State is faced with the loser’s bracket and needing to win out to advance to a super regional, likely against number-one overall seed UCLA.
“We have to put this game behind us, but there are definitely things we’ve got to learn from it,” OSU’s Andy Armstrong said, echoing his coach’s thoughts. “We have to take those things and improve on them tomorrow. Tomorrow we’ve got new life and now it’s do-or-die for us.”
Friday, Nathan Moore pitched 1 1/3 of relief to get the win. OSU’s Jake Mullholland got the last four defensive outs for his team but took the loss. Cincinnati’s Korren Thompson pitched the ninth for his 13th save of the season.
After a pair of solo home runs were all the Beavers had to show for the first six innings, the home team found something more in the seventh.
A hit batter, walk and a single loaded the bases for Rutschman, who was intentionally walked to make it a 5-3 game.
Bearcats coach Scott Googins said his assistants during the game tried to talk him out of his game plan of issuing the intentional walk in certain situations.
“Oregon State was making a run at us and you put that guy at the plate and who knows? I was willing to give up a run,” Googins said, noting that Clayton Colvin, his starting pitcher, wasn’t able to get the team out of the jam.
“But we weren’t going to get beat by the best player in the nation. I’m not saying it’s the best thing, but it worked out for him not beating us.”
Philip struck out looking for the first out before pinch hitter Taylor singled to left to score two and tie the game, giving OSU new life.
Joe Casey flew out to left, but Andy Armstrong provided his team’s biggest hit to that point with the go-ahead run-scoring single to right. AJ Kullman then replaced Colvin.
But Cincinnati wasn’t done despite the disappointment of surrendering the lead.
The Bearcats came back with a run in the top of the eighth to tie it again.
Oregon State reliever Joey Mundt drew a potential inning-ending, double-play grounder, but a sliding Joey Bellini was called safe at first, allowing the tying run to score. The play was reviewed and the call upheld.
Cincinnati went ahead in the ninth, with a leadoff bloop single to center by Jace Mercer, followed by the Bumpass triple.
Fehmel worked around a one-out fielding error in the first by drawing a double-play grounder before Cincinnati broke through in the second.
Joey Wiemer led off with a double to left on a high pop fly that three Beaver fielders couldn’t track down. Two batters later, Bumpass drove him in with a lined single to right. Fehmel recorded three straight outs to limit the damage.
The Bearcats tacked on two more in the third with the help of five consecutive hits, including three straight doubles to start that stretch.
Cincinnati was kept off the board initially when a relay started by Joe Casey in left field resulted in Rutschman tagging out a runner at the plate. Rutschman dropped the ball on a transfer, but the out stood after a replay.
But the third double of the frame, from Joey Wiemer, scored a run. Jace Mercer followed with a single to make it 3-0.
After leaving two runners on in the first two innings, the Beavers got a run back in the bottom of the third on Tyler Malone’s no-double leadoff home run to right.
Two different Cincinnati outfielders made stellar catches that contributed to OSU coming up empty in the first two frames.
OSU’s Kyler McMahan closed the gap a little further with his solo homer to left with one out in the fifth. The Beavers got two runners on later in the at-bat but couldn’t find the clutch hit to tie it.
The Bearcats answered that run when Bumpass started the sixth with a home run to right to make it 4-2 and chase Fehmel, with Christian Chamberlain coming on in relief.
Miscommunication between Rutschman and Ober, playing first base, on a Jeremy Johnson foul pop-up allowed the ball to drop and led to another run. Johnson walked then scored on Eric Santiago’s double to deep center.
Cincinnati rolled through the American Athletic Conference tournament, scoring 51 runs with seven home runs in four games, capped with a 22-5 victory against Connecticut in last Sunday’s championship game in Clearwater, Florida.