OMAHA, Neb. – You hear about best-laid plans not always working out that well.
On Monday, No. 1-ranked Oregon State showed what happens when a plan unfolds to near perfection.
In a showdown with College World Series heavyweight LSU that was hyped to the hilt, the Beavers came out, executed from the get-go, leaned on Bryce Fehmel for the second time in a row when he stepped onto a big stage and barreled past the Tigers 13-1 at TD Ameritrade Park in the second round of the College World Series.
OSU (56-4) has won 23 games in a row for the second time this season and now can sit back and wait for either LSU or Florida State to emerge from a consolation game on Wednesday. The Beavers take on the winner of that game at 1 p.m. Friday needing just one win to move into the National Championship Series.
To climb into the driver’s seat, Oregon State came out and played a nearly flawless game against a team that entered almost as hot as the Beavers with 17 wins in a row.
The top three batters in the lineup combined to produce 7 hits in 13 at-bats, as well as 5 runs and 6 RBIs. Cleanup man KJ Harrison blew the game open with a first-pitch grand slam in the 6th inning – making LSU pay a steep price for four walks in that frame.
And the Beavers’ offense was part relentless with 11 hits, part maddeningly patient with 12 walks.
“The two guys at the top of the order do a great job of getting on, and mine and KJ's job and everybody else's job is to get him in,” OSU right fielder Trevor Larnach said after a 2-for-3, 3-RB night. “I was fortunate to get a pitch to do it on and help the team out.
“We trust them and they trust us and everybody does their job and we have fun. When we're really rolling, we have games like this, and it's really fun.”
OSU set the tone from the jump.
Leadoff man Steven Kwan laid down a perfect drag bunt to the right side and beat it out for a single. After Nick Madrigal rolled out to shortstop on a hit-and-run play, Larnach worked Tigers’ starter Eric Walker to 2-and-2 and then drilled a single to left field to score Kwan for a 1-0 lead.
“Wanted to be aggressive,” Beavers’ coach Pat Casey said. “I think that takes the edge off a little bit, too. I thought we were a little tight against (Cal State Fullerton on Saturday). So I thought if we force them to do something here, takes their mind out of it. We got going, and Trev got the big hit and got us ahead 1-0.”
Though there were plenty of fireworks to follow, the single run might’ve been plenty for Fehmel on a night when pitching for both teams played a major role.
OSU caught a break when Walker had to leave the game in the 3rd inning right as he seemed to be settling in. Caleb Gilbert came on and struck out four of the first five batters he faced on the way to 2 scoreless frames.
Included in Gilbert’s rapid beginning were three called third strikes – one vs. Larnach – and he got Harrison flailing at a 1-and-2 offering.
The Beavers finally got to Gilbert in the 5th when normally sure-handed shortstop Kramer Robertson dropped the ball after fielding a grounder off of Cadyn Greiner’s bat with one out. Gilbert retired Kwan for the second out, but Madrigal stretched the inning out with a perfectly executed hit-and-run single and Larnach made the error sting when he lofted a single over the second-base bag to plate two runs for a 3-0 lead.
Gilbert walked Harrison and that to begin a bad trend of LSU pitchers handing out free bases over the final 4.1 innings.
Oregon State did the most meaningful damage in the 6th and 7th innings when the Tigers walked four batters in each frame, with seven coming around to score.
“We were looking for pitches to hit, and they've got some power arms,” Casey said. “You're just not going to bludgeon (LSU), that's for sure. If you can get in pitch counts and see more pitches, it probably gives you a better opportunity to get a good swing on.”
That was a concept the Tigers never got much of a chance to work with against Fehmel.
Mixing three pitches well, painting the corners and working ahead to mist hitters, Fehmel was able to tie LSU in knots. He recorded 14 fly-ball or line-drive outs and allowed only two hits – a Zach Watson single in the 2nd inning and Watson’s mammoth solo home run in the 7th.
“The main thing was keeping them off-balance as best I could,” Fehmel said. “Mix all three pitches for strikes, and I did that for 8 innings to the best of my ability, and it worked out.”
Casey was more effusive with his praise.
“It all started with Bryce, just coming out and being so good,” the OSU coach said. “He was – Wow! – really good. We knew we were playing a really good club. We probably caught them on a day where they didn't play as well as they normally do. And we played very, very well.
“We just talked before the game about this is our time. This is our opportunity. This is what we came here for. Let's not miss that moment. So the guys played great.”