Coach Pat Bailey might have said it best.
The Oregon State baseball team just didn’t play well in the final two weeks of the season. Now that season, on the heels of a 2018 national championship, is over.
Creighton took an early lead Saturday afternoon and OSU couldn’t recover. The Bluejays held on for a 4-1 victory in an elimination game at the NCAA Corvallis Regional at Goss Stadium.
The top-seeded Beavers (36-20-1) dropped four of their final five games and 10 of the last 15 in the past month.
It was an uphill battle Saturday as it was Friday, when fourth-seeded Cincinnati also jumped ahead of the Beavers 3-0.
“It’s kind of felt like that for the last few weeks, honestly,” OSU sophomore Alex McGarry said. “I think we have guys that were built for it … but things didn’t really fall our way today, and that’s OK. We showed that fight and I think we showed it all year. Just proud of the guys we had.”
Friday’s defeat marked the first time in Oregon State’s highly successful postseason run covering the past 15 seasons that the Beavers lost their regional opener and immediately had their backs to the wall.
But Saturday, the offensive response needed just couldn’t be found.
“We stung a couple balls right to the track, and that’s baseball,” Beavers senior Zak Taylor said. “They had a few bloops that fell in for them, got them going a little bit. Again, you can’t complain too much about that.”
The second-seeded Bluejays (39-12) opened the scoring with three runs in the third, starting with Isaac Collins’ leadoff home run that cleared the right-field bleachers.
OSU starting pitcher Grant Gambrell allowed a one-out single and then hit a batter before Jack Strunc singled to center to score another run. Kyler McMahan struggled to corral the ball in center, allowing a third run to cross.
OSU had three errors Saturday after two on Friday. The Beavers averaged less than one error per game this season.
“I know overall the defense we play all year long is really good,” Bailey said. “And I thought we made some great play today, too.”
The Beavers got a run back in the fourth.
OSU loaded the bases with one out on a Taylor double down the left-field line and two walks. Andy Armstrong then popped out to foul territory in right field to bring a runner home. But Joe Casey also popped out to end the threat.
The Beavers had a chance to cut into the deficit in the fifth, when McGarry singled up the middle and Adley Rutschman was intentionally walked. A fly ball by Beau Philip, next up, carried to the right-field wall, where a jumping catch was made by Will Robertson to retire the side.
In the sixth, Taylor got to sixth with a walk and George Mendazona’s sacrifice bunt. But Armstrong and Casey both flew out to left, with another leaping catch on Casey’s fly ball ending the inning.
Creighton pushed its lead back to three in the seventh after a Dylan Pearce pickoff throw went off Mendazona’s glove at third base, allowing the runner to score. Pearce gave up a one-out double and single in consecutive at-bats to set up the situation.
From there, the Beavers went down in order in the seventh and got only a two-out Taylor single in the eighth.
In the eighth, Rutschman got a standing ovation from the home crowd before and after what is almost certainly his final at-bat in a Beaver uniform. The junior catcher and infielder is expected to be the first overall pick Monday in the Major League Baseball draft.
Rutschman flew out to the wall in deep center and tipped his batting helmet in appreciation to the fans.
In the ninth, Casey walked with one out and Jake Dukart reached safely when the Bluejays botched a grounder and potential game-ending play at second base. But Tyler Malone produced a similar grounder in the next at-bat and Creighton finished it there.
Pearce, a senior right-hander, pitched four innings in relief. He allowed four hits with two strikeouts and no walks.
“I thought Dylan Pearce was outstanding today. He did a really, really good job, gave up one unearned run,” Bailey said. “A great way for him to end his career at Oregon State. He’s just a competitor and more importantly he’s just a really, really good young man.”
Gambrell went 4⅓ innings, allowing five hits, two earned runs and three walks with four strikeouts.
Creighton starter Evan Johnson lasted 5⅓ innings, giving up three hits, one run and five walks with three strikeouts. John Sakowski did the rest, with just a hit and a walk against him.