OMAHA, Neb. — Oregon State’s latest offensive explosion seemingly materialized out of thin air.
Unable to solve North Carolina left-handed reliever Caden O’Brien for four-plus innings Wednesday night, the third-seeded Beavers trailed 6-3 entering the top of the eighth. OSU was six outs away from an early College World Series exit.
Nine-hole hitter Zak Taylor pulled O’Brien’s 60th pitch of the elimination game into left field. The leadoff single was the spark OSU needed as a light mist began to fall at TD Ameritrade Park.
The third-seeded Beavers batted around in the eighth and ninth, keeping their season alive with an 11-6 victory over No. 6 UNC. OSU (51-11-1) must defeat Mississippi State (39-27) twice, beginning with Friday’s noon matchup, to reach next week’s championship series.
“We all believed that we could stay in the game,” Taylor said after the win. “I feel like we have that great team chemistry where we really do believe, no matter how many runs we’re down, that we’re always in it. I was just lucky enough to start it, and Nick (Madrigal) followed, and then on.”
OSU, which is batting .322 as a team, has scored 80 runs through eight NCAA tournament games. The 2018 Beavers have already set school records for hits (702) and home runs (64) in a season.
Taylor, a junior first baseman, was 0 for 5 at the CWS entering his eighth-inning at-bat. He took a first-pitch strike before sending an 0-1 fastball under the glove of third baseman Kyle Datres.
“The thing that probably gets overlooked is Zak’s hit,” Jack Anderson said. “We didn’t have a hit in three or four innings, and he got down 0-1 and was ready to go. Just seeing someone get a hit, that’s definitely contagious.”
UNC (44-20), which defeated OSU 8-6 in the CWS opener for both teams, removed O’Brien for righty Joey Lancellotti. Madrigal slapped Lancellotti’s second pitch back up the middle for a single, giving the Beavers two baserunners with no outs.
Cadyn Grenier then stepped to the plate and fell behind 1-2. The junior shortstop worked the count and fouled off four consecutive pitches before taking a 3-2 fastball up and in for ball four.
Home plate umpire Frank Sylvester had a wide strike zone, forcing Grenier to protect on anything that was remotely close.
“I knew I couldn’t give up the eight inches off the outside of the plate that (Sylvester) was giving,” Grenier said. “You just adjust to that.
“It was a really tough at-bat, a lot of tough pitches. I was able to take that one and it was huge.”
The 11-pitch battle loaded the bases for Trevor Larnach, who went down swinging against new reliever Brett Daniels. But Adley Rutschman picked up his teammate, lining a 1-0 changeup to the wall in dead center that cleared the bases to tie the game at 6.
Rutschman’s drive was hit so hard that it got through UNC’s no-doubles defense. Grenier was right behind Madrigal as the pair rounded second and third.
“That ball got out on the warning track in about two seconds,” Tar Heels coach Mike Fox said. “You’ve got to give (Rutschman) credit. He put a good swing on it.”
The three RBIs extended Rutschman’s season total to 77, breaking Michael Conforto’s school record of 76 set in 2012.
“We knew that was our guy up there,” Taylor said. “He’s come up big in clutch situations for us all year … and he just hammered it.”
Daniels fought back to strike out Malone before issuing free passes to pinch-hitter Steven Kwan and Michael Gretler to load the bases for Anderson.
Looking to be aggressive but smart, Anderson was fooled by a first-pitch changeup that went for a called strike. He then took three consecutive balls and fouled off a 3-1 fastball to set up a classic full count, bases loaded and two outs situation.
Daniels’ 3-2 fastball missed low, forcing in Rutschman for the go-ahead run.
“I was just really battling to try and see those pitches,” said Anderson, who also drew a massive bases loaded walk last season to beat Washington State. “Once we got to 3-2, I just did the same thing and tried to stay in my legs and be on time. Because if it’s in the zone, you’ve got to be swinging.”
The Beavers stranded three in the eighth but came right back with four more runs in the ninth.
Larnach plated the first by singling home Madrigal, who roped a double to open the inning. Malone made it 10-6 with a two-run shot to straight away right and Anderson brought home the final run with an RBI single of his own.
Two days after scoring 10 unanswered runs while knocking out Washington, the Beavers eliminated UNC behind an 8-0 spurt to close the game. Both surges by the CWS’ top offense coalesced without warning.
“That’s what we’ve seen a lot this year,” Malone said. “We’ve had tons of rallies with two outs, and I think it’s the same thing. We string a couple hits together and you just start making things happen.”