In front of a record opening day crowd of 24,473, 8th largest in the history of TD Ameritrade Park, Mississippi St. opened the 2013 College World Series with a 5-4 win in which the Bulldogs beat the Beavers best.
Mississippi St. out-pitched the combination of Oregon St.'s 1-2 punch of All-Americans Andrew Moore and Matt Boyd, and the Bulldogs withstood a 4 for 4 plus a walk day by Michael Conforto, the Pac-12 Player of the Year.
Wes Rea's 2 out 2 RBI double in the 8th inning, his second crucial double of the day, put the Bulldogs ahead for good, and pinned the loss on Boyd, who had taken over for Moore in the 17th. inning. Meanwhile, Ross Mitchell and Jonathan Holder combined for 4 1/3 innings of scoreless relief, dodging disaster when Oregon St.'s Danny Hayes' shot at a walk-off 3 run home run on a hanging breaking ball that would lose most games came up just short, when Hunter Renfroe hauled in the catch 2 strides before running into the right field wall, as TD Ameritrade Park played large, holding what would have been a home run ball in almost every park the Beavers had played in all year.
"The breaking ball was a little high," Holder said. "I had nervousness when the ball left the bat. The whole team did."
Mitchell improved to 13-0 for the year, all in relief appearances, and Holder picked up his 19th save of season.
Oregon St. got off to a good start, with Moore erasing a leadoff double by Adam Frazier that resulted when Conforto mis-read the ball, and the the Beavers opened a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning, when Conforto doubled to drive in Tyler Smith, who had reached on a 2 base error by Mississippi St. third baseman Sam Frost, and Hayes singled to score Conforto. Both runs were an unearned gift as a result of the error.
Mississippi St. stormed right back, taking advantage of the only difficult inning of the afternoon by Moore, in the top of the second. Moore hit leadoff batter Brett Pirtle, and Rea followed by a double down the left field line. A walk and 2 more singles followed, erasing the early Beaver lead. The Bulldogs hit well early, as all 4 hits in their first 2 at bats were on pitches on the edge of the strike zone.
It could have been a bigger Bulldog lead, but Frost tried to run on Conforto's arm, running on a fly ball out to left by Frazier, and Conforto's throw had Beaver catcher Jake Rodriguez in position well up the line for an easy out.
"It was sloppy in the beginning," Mississippi St. head coach John Cohen said. "We had a couple of plays early that we didn't make that could have made our life easier. But this group never quits. They will never give in. The character of this team is incredible."
Frazier's 2 hits on the day did increase his season total to 104, make him the all-time career leader in hits in a single season for the Bulldogs.
Moore settled down, with the double play the first of 11 consecutive outs, as Moore set down 17 of the next 19 Bulldog batters.
"Moore had 1 bad inning, and then he got really, really sharp," Oregon St. coach Pat Casey felt.
Oregon St. tied the game in the 4th, when Hayes led off with a walk, and scored on Kavin Keyes' triple into the left field corner, and though they couldn't take the lead despite putting 2 balls in play, the did their next at bat.
Conforto 1 hopped a ground rule double out to center field, where no one has homered before in the CWS, moving Andy Peterson to third, and Dylan Davis' ground out gave Oregon St. the lead back, ending the day for Mississippi St. starter Kendall Graveman, and putting the Beavers up 4-3. The lead held up until the 8th inning.
Graveman gave Mississippi St. everything they could have hoped for, and perhaps a little more.
The Beavers missed numerous opportunities to extend their lead, leaving runners in scoring position in 5 of their last 6 at bats, the most notable before the 9th coming in the 7th, when Conforto became the first Beaver to go 4 for 4 at the CWS. But Davis hit into a 1-6-3 double play to thwart that threat.
"When we get 10 hits, we've got to do better," Casey said in reference to what has been a season-long problem with not getting clutch hits the Beavers have struggled with. "I don't think we were very efficient with what we did with 10 hits."
The Beavers out-hit the Bulldogs 10-8, but also left 10 on base, compared to only 4 stranded Bulldogs.
In an incredible development, Oregon St. had the top of the order lead off every odd numbered inning, yet managed only 3 runs from 5 "optimal" opportunities.
Alex Detz's hit got the 8th inning Bulldog rally started, and ended the day for Moore, as Casey went for the second game in a row to Boyd, the Beavers' usual series first game starter. It was a decision brought about by a couple of key factors, including rain last Monday in Chapel Hill, and a back injury to Max Englebrekt in the second game of the Corvallis Super Regional.
Englebrekt, who was Oregon St.'s closer late in the season, injured his back in the second game against Kansas St., which prompted Casey to turn to the senior Boyd, who worked out of the bullpen in every conceivable circumstance in his first 3 years, to close the deciding game against the Wildcats.
The NCAA subsequently, and during the game Monday night, decided to flip the schedule for the CWS, which originally had Oregon St. and Mississippi St. playing tomorrow, in order to give top seed North Carolina an extra day of rest, after rain forced the South Carolina-North Carolina series deciding game to Tuesday.
"Mo was getting tired, and Matty's been solid all year," Casey explained. "Max was not available. We're handcuffed a little bit with him being down. It's tough when someone you've been closing with at the end of the season isn't available."
Oregon St. mounted another threat in their half of the 8th inning, when with 1 out, Barnes reached on the second error of the day by Mississippi St., this one on second baseman Pirtle, whose' throw pulled Rea off the bag, and Keyes followed with a single, ending the day for Mitchell. But Holder took over, getting Rodriguez to fly out, and ended the inning with a strikeout of Oregon St. pinch hitter Joey Jantzen.
Boyd got Frost to pop up a foul, which Rodriguez made a diving catch on, and Scott Schultz, who had 10 saves on the season, picked up the last 2 outs, leaving Oregon St. needing 1 run to tie the game in their last at bat.
Smith led off with a single, but Peterson, who had over 20 successful bunts for singles on the season, had one go foul with 2 strikes, resulting in an out. Mississippi St. had had enough of Conforto, so Holder carefully pitched around him, issuing a full count walk. Davis struck out swinging, ending an 0 for 5 afternoon, and then Hayes came up 10 feet short of altering the outcome.
But it will be the Bulldogs that move into the winners' side of the bracket, playing the winner of tonight's Indiana-Louisville rematch (the teams met 3 times in the regular season) Monday evening, while the Beavers, their 7 game CWS winning streak ended, will face the loser of the Hoosiers-Cardinal game Monday afternoon at 2 PM CDT (Noon PDT), in an elimination game.
The odds were not with Hayes and the Beavers, however, as the Bulldogs' lead entering the 9th was the 41st in a row at the CWS, and 25 at TD Ameritrade Park, that has held up.
The Beavers will have to try to do something that only 3 teams have done in the last 32 years, which is come back from a first game loss. The good news for Oregon St. fans is the Beavers are one of those teams, having done so in their 2006 championship run.
"We would obviously rather be in the winners' bracket," Casey said, "but we've been down before, against UCLA, Oregon, Washington St., Kansas St., so it not foreign territory."
Boyd took the loss, dropping to 10-4 for the season.
Junior LHP Ben Wetzler (9-1, 2.11) will get the start for Oregon St. on Monday. Boyd could close again, according to Casey.
"I hope he gets another chance to start," Casey added. "It would mean we've won some more games."