Reliever Max Engelbrekt was the lone player on Oregon State’s 2017 baseball team with College World Series experience.
One year later, the Beavers’ roster is loaded with Omaha gurus as the team readies for another trip to the Midwest. No. 3 OSU (49-10-1) will open the CWS at noon Saturday against sixth-seeded North Carolina (43-18) at TD Ameritrade Park in Nebraska.
“With the amount of guys that have been there already, it’s definitely a little different,” redshirt senior outfielder Jack Anderson said. “We have some leadership that’s been there and knows what it’s like to play in that environment.”
Veterans Steven Kwan, Cadyn Grenier, Nick Madrigal, Trevor Larnach, Adley Rutschman, Michael Gretler and Anderson started all four of OSU’s games at the 2017 CWS. The Beavers finished 2-2 and were eliminated by LSU.
Bryce Fehmel received two starts on the mound while fellow returners Jake Mulholland, Brandon Eisert and Sam Tweedt pitched out of the bullpen.
“There’s going to be 25,000-plus people in the stands,” Fehmel said. “Having that experience under our belts is definitely going to be an advantage heading into this.”
Roughly 24 hours before the start of last year’s CWS, coach Pat Casey announced that starting left fielder Christian Donahue had been suspended for a violation of team rules. OSU was already without staff ace Luke Heimlich, who chose to not pitch after a report surfaced detailing his juvenile record.
The Beavers are expected to have their full roster available this time around.
“We feel like anytime you can go to a tournament with your entire club, that helps,” Casey said. “We were without a couple guys last year and I still felt like we were a good enough club to move on and do some of the things we wanted to do. We played a great club in LSU and we weren’t able to sustain that momentum we had, so hopefully we’ll able to come out of the chute and play well.”
Heimlich likely to pitch opener
Casey said he “would assume” Heimlich, the two-time Pac-12 pitcher of the year, will get the start against North Carolina.
“We study that tape, look at the matchup,” Casey elaborated. “We know we’re going to play two games, and it’s kind of like that deal in the regionals where you don’t know who you’re going to play in Game 2. You certainly know who you’re going to play in Game 1, so the decision will be based on (North Carolina).”
Heimlich (16-1, 2.32 earned run average) leads Division I in victories and is third nationally with 151 strikeouts. The senior left-hander has won nine consecutive starts entering the CWS.
OSU’s all-time leader in strikeouts with 377, Heimlich needs one more victory to surpass Ben Wetzler’s 36 for the most in program history.
In the ninth inning of Saturday’s 6-3 victory over Minnesota that clinched the Corvallis Super Regional, Gretler took a fastball off his left hand but was able to stay in the game. The honorable mention all-Pac-12 third baseman was also hit in the same hand the previous week against LSU.
Gretler participated in Monday’s practice and is expected to be available at the CWS.
“Mike’s a tough guy,” Casey said. “I think if he probably was (injured), he wouldn’t tell anybody anyway.”
The eight-team CWS field is comprised of representatives from all four major conferences.
The SEC leads the way with three schools (No. 1 Florida, No. 5 Arkansas, Mississippi State), followed by the Pac-12 (No. 3 OSU, Washington), Big 12 (No. 9 Texas Tech, No. 13 Texas) and ACC (No. 6 UNC).
OSU has the top team batting average (.320), ERA (3.26) and fielding percentage (.981) of the CWS participants. Texas Tech is second in hitting (.311) while Florida, the defending champion, is the best of the rest in ERA (3.46) and fielding (.978).
Casey believes the Beavers are clicking at the right time.
“I think we’re playing much more consistently than we were,” he said. “I hate to say we’re playing our best baseball because I always want to play better, but I do think we’re playing well. Whether that’s good enough to do what we’ve got to do, I don’t know. But I do think we’re playing good.”