OMAHA, Neb. — Mississippi State wore all-black uniforms for Saturday’s do-or-die College World Series rematch.
The Bulldogs proclaimed to be dressing for Oregon State’s funeral. Little did they know, the funeral would be their own.
It got a little dicey at the end, but third-seeded OSU punched its ticket to the CWS finals with a 5-2 victory before a TD Ameritrade Park crowd of 21,821. The Beavers will face No. 5 Arkansas at 4 p.m. Monday to open the best-of-3 championship series.
“I’m proud of our club to fight through the losers’ bracket and get the opportunity to play for a national title,” said coach Pat Casey, who guided the Beavers to consecutive CWS titles in 2006-07. OSU hasn’t been to the finals since.
“It’s special. Our guys, as you could see, were running on fumes.”
The Beavers won four elimination games in six days, becoming the first team to reach the finals after dropping its CWS opener since South Carolina in 2010. OSU bounced back from an 8-6 loss to North Carolina with victories over Washington (14-5), UNC (11-6) and MSU (12-2, 5-2).
The 2010 Gamecocks went on to sweep UCLA for their first national title. OSU, which finished 2-2 at last year’s CWS, will try to repeat South Carolina’s feat.
“It’s time to finish,” redshirt senior outfielder Kyle Nobach said. “That’s been our motto all year, and we’re excited to do it.”
Sporting their classic road grays, the Beavers (53-11-1) plated all five runs with two outs in the third inning — including a three-run homer from Tyler Malone — and took a 5-1 lead into the bottom of the ninth. Closer Jake Mulholland quickly got the first two outs, but the Bulldogs (39-29) refused to go quietly.
Elijah MacNamee and Justin Foscue worked consecutive walks before Luke Alexander ripped an RBI single to left. Down 0-2 in the count, pinch-hitter Tanner Poole was hit by a Mulholland slider to load the bases and bring the winning run to the plate.
Mulholland, one of OSU’s calmer personalities, did his best to ignore the enormity of the situation.
“You have to try and tuck that away and not be thinking about that,” the sophomore left-hander said. “Playing for something this big, I feel like we’re representing the whole West Coast right now. We’re trying to do something big here.”
MSU, which staved off elimination in dramatic fashion throughout the postseason, sent nine-hole hitter Jordan Westburg to bat. Westburg belted a grand slam earlier in the CWS against UNC, a fact Mulholland was aware of.
Mulholland pumped in two strikes and missed with his third pitch. Westburg then hit a grounder right at shortstop Cadyn Grenier, who took his time to secure the ball before flipping to Nick Madrigal at second for the final out.
“At first you never really know if it’s going to squeak through that six hole,” Mulholland said. “But pretty much when I see Cadyn near a baseball on the ground, it’s a bit of relief.”
Luke Heimlich and Christian Chamberlain were warming up in the bullpen late, but Casey elected to stick with Mulholland.
“He was going to finish it one way or the other,” Casey said.
Mulholland recorded the final six outs after taking over for Kevin Abel (6-1), who worked seven spectacular innings in his sixth start of the year.
Abel gave up just one run on three hits with five strikeouts and three walks. Prior to Abel’s outing, no OSU starter had lasted longer than four innings at the CWS.
Abel, a freshman righty, said fastball command was the difference.
“When I had that, they didn’t do any damage,” Abel explained. “When I didn’t, I walked them, gave them opportunities to get runs, and that’s not what you want. But when I made pitches, my defense made some amazing plays behind me.”
With his team trailing 5-1 in the fifth, Jake Mangum hit a two-out single to the gap in left-center and tried to swipe an extra base. A textbook relay of Nobach to Grenier to Madrigal gunned down Mangum at second.
“We work on that all the time in practice, cuts and relays,” Nobach said. “I got to the ball and made sure I was fielding it cleanly because there’s been a lot of problems with all the outfielders in this College World Series, bobbling balls and stuff. So I made sure I took my time, did a little 180 spin and hit the cutoff. Cadyn made a great throw.”
One inning later, MSU had runners on second and third with one out for MacNamee. The junior lined a ball right at third baseman Michael Gretler, who made the catch and flipped it to Madrigal for the inning-ending double play.
Gretler was playing MacNamee in the six hole.
“He hit it hard, I just happened to be right there,” Gretler said. “I saw out of the corner of my eye that the guy kind of extended, and I knew Nick would be there.”
Adley Rutschman and Gretler had two hits apiece for the Beavers, who knocked around MSU starter Ethan Small for five runs in the third.
Grenier stroked a two-out double to left and Trevor Larnach then reached on an infield single to bring up Rutschman. Small’s first pitch of the at-bat was ripped back up the middle, and Gretler followed with an RBI single of his own to put OSU up 2-0.
The Beavers were far from done as Malone jumped all over a 3-1 fastball, crushing a three-run homer to right-center. It was Malone’s third round-tripper of the CWS and eighth of the year.
“In that situation I kind of geared up for the fastball because of what the count was,” Malone said. “I knew I hit it good but right-center in this park, especially with the wind coming in a little bit, I wasn’t positive (it was out) right off the bat.”
The drive easily cleared the 375-foot power alley fence.
Small (5-4) made it through 4⅔ innings and allowed five runs on seven hits with five strikeouts and a walk.
Rowdey Jordan’s third-inning RBI single got MSU on the board. Abel kept the Bulldogs from chipping away at the deficit, sending OSU back to the finals.
“At the beginning of the season, no one would have said (Abel) would have been starting in the College World Series,” Rutschman said. “But here he is on the biggest stage there is, just being a competitor out there.”
Steven Kwan, OSU’s regular center fielder, pinch-hit in the ninth and stayed in the field. Kwan is dealing with a left hamstring tweak but could return to the lineup against Arkansas.