TEAM OF DESTINY, BEAVS ARE NATIONAL CHAMPS

FOR THE NATIONAL CHAMPION Oregon State Beavers, Elimination had been hanging around all week but on Monday night in Omaha, Destiny showed up and took her place. In a championship game hard fought to the end, OSU crafted two memorable halves of the eighth inning, breaking a two-all tie to forge ahead and then shutting down a Carolina rally in the ninth.

Closer Kevin Gunderson, thought by most pundits to be unavailable after throwing an extraordinary 5 1-3 innings yesterday, recorded the final two outs to clinch the Beavs' first college baseball title.

With runners on first and second with one out, Gunderson came in and induced a grounder to 1B Bill Rowe. Rowe got the force at second, but SS Darwin Barney's throw to Gunderson at first was an eyelash late of turning the double play.

With two outs and runners now at the corners, Chad Flack flew out to Tyler Graham in center field and the Beavers were the national champs with a 3-2 win over Carolina.

The Beavs scored the winning run on a throwing error by the Carolina second baseman with two-out in the eighth. It began innocently enough -- with two out and nobody on, Rowe worked Tar Heels starter Daniel Bard for a walk and Graham looped one to left. With runners on first and second, Andrew Miller relieved Bard and OSU pinch hitter Ryan Gipson hit a routine grounder but Bryan Steed's throw was errant and Rowe raced home for the eventual winning run.

The Beavs had early success against the well-rested Bard but he was nearly un-hittable in the latter innings. Before that, however, the Beavs plated two runs in the fourth.

CF Tyler Graham went back through the box to open the home half of the fourth inning with a single. After Graham stole second, RF John Wallace dropped down a perfect bunt forcing Bard to attempt a bare handed field and throw. He mishandled it, and Bard's desperation throw to first was well off the mark. A heady play by Carolina's Garrett Gore backing up on the play made it close at the plate but Graham streaked down the line with the Beavers' first run of the game.

One out later, second baseman Chris Kunda singled to center to bring in Wallace and the Beavs led 2-0. Bard hit his stride after the fourth, rearing back and throwing nothing but straight heat and the Beavs were unable to get anything else going against the Boston Red Sox' first-round draft pick until the eighth.

OSU starter Jonah Nickerson, again pitching on short rest, retired the first nine NC batters. The string was broken when Carolina led off the the fourth with an infield hit. One inning later, North Carolina got to a tiring Nickerson with two runs of their own to knot the score at 2-2.

North Carolina threatened again in the sixth with runners on the corners with one out but after a meeting on the mound, OSU coach Pat Casey stuck with his starter and Nickerson rewarded him by getting out of the inning with an unconventional double play. Inducing a tapper to third, the Beavs threw out the would-be go ahead run at the plate and C Mitch Canham caught the Tar Heels baserunner too far rounding second base.

Nickerson gave the Beaver Nation all they could ask for and more with a 6 2-3 inning, six strikeout outing, allowing two runs on six hits. The former Oregon City star tossed 100 pitches in the championship game and a mind blowing 323 in the series.

Joe Patterson and Eddie Kunz worked the seventh before giving way to starter Dallas Buck in the eighth. Buck came in with runners on first and second and inheriting a 2-0 count. After a groundout to first, Buck intentionally walked the next batter and fanned the next for the second out. Then, working out of the windup, Buck got the strikeout of the series.

The swinging strikeout on a 1-2 low and away slider came on a pitch where the Tar Heel runner on third broke for home. Replays showed he would have been safe but Canham did well to hang on to the third strike and it began to feel like destiny for Oregon State. Sure enough, the Beavs came up to bat in their half of the eighth, took advantage of an opportunity and Gunderson nailed the lid shut.

It was a remarkable series for Oregon State. Unceremoniously dumped on their wallets 11-1 by Miami in the opener, the Beavers came back from the brink time and time again. The Beavs faced elimination six times during this College World Series, brushing away deficits and pressure packed moments like so many minor inconveniences.

Oregon State's improbable run began one week ago today as they eliminated Georgia 5-3. Next, OSU dominated Miami in the rematch, shutting down the Hurricanes 8-1. The Beavers blanked Rice twice, 5-0 and 2-0, to reach the best of three final against Carolina, undefeated to that point in the series. After dropping the opener 4-3 to Carolina, the Beavs came back from a 5-0 deficit to win 11-7 yesterday setting up tonight's winner-take-all nail biter.

NOTES:
This is the Beavs first baseball title and second overall NCAA championship. The Beavers were the 1961 cross country national champions.

Gunderson picked up his 20th save of the season Monday, tops in the nation. He became the first pitcher to record at least one victory and two saves in the CWS since Pepperdine's Steve Montgomery in 1992.


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