Big XII regular season champion Kansas St. was down to their last strike, but Ross Kivett, the Big XII Conference Player of the Year came through with a triple. Kivett, who had started the Wildcats' comeback in the 6th inning with a leadoff double that eventually led to a run on a bases loaded hit by pitch, scored to force the game into extra innings when Tanner Witt singled to right.
"When it got to 3-2, I wanted to put a good swing on it," Kivett said. "I really wasn't trying to do too much. If I could pass the stick to this guy (Witt), I knew we had a good chance to score a run. I don't think there was anything special. It was just the same mentality we've had all year. You battle until your last strike and you battle until the last out."
Pac-12 Champion and third seed to the NCAA Tournament Oregon St. squandered chances to score what would have been the game winning run in both the 6th and 8th innings, continuing a season long recurring tendency to fail to hit in the clutch. It's a problem that kept games that should have been blowouts close, and got them in trouble a few times, but really came back to bite them at a very bad time in the first game of the Corvallis Super Regional when they ran into a team that could hit well.
Kansas St., which entered the Super Regional series with a team batting average of .324, second highest in the country, hadn't been able to break through in the 8th inning, when Oregon St. worked out of a bases loaded jam. But the relentless Bat Cats, rejuvenated by having tied the game in the 9th inning, batted around and blew the game wide open with 4 runs in the 10th inning, taking initial command of the best 2 of 3 series that they will be the "home team" in the rest of the way.
It started with a "sun ball" double to left by Jared King that the Beavers' Michael Conforto couldn't handle, and King put Kansas St. ahead on a single by Jon Davis.
"The sun was at a difficult angle," Conforto said. "But it's no excuse. It's our home field, obviously, so we know where the sun is going to be and how it plays. Sometimes that happens. I'll take that one. I just couldn't see it."
Conforto, the Pac-12 Player of the Year, had made a "blinded by the sun" sliding catch in the 9th inning that temporarily held off the Kansas St. rally, but wasn't quite enough, as Jace Fry, who had "Tommy John" surgery last June 15, got the first 2 outs, and then got Kivett to a full count, couldn't close the deal.
Pinch hitter Mitch Meyer singled to score Davis, and though Oregon St. catcher Jake Rodriguez threw out Blair DeBord who was trying to score on a wild pitch, Witt delivered 2 more insurance RBIs with a single off Dan Child, who had taken over for Fry, after Oregon St. had intentionally walked Kivett.
Jake Matthys, a sometimes starter who had come on in the bottom of the 9th inning, then worked around a 1 out double by Tyler Smith to close out the win that left the new record Goss Stadium crowd of 3,574 stunned, and improve his season record to 9-1 in the process.
"We found a way," Kansas St. head coach Brad Hill said. "That's the way it's kind of been all year long. Down to our last strike, Ross comes up big and then Tanner follows it up to get it tied. And then you bring Matthys in, and I think we have a lot of confidence when he comes in to the game that we are going to be in pretty good shape."
Things got off to a good start for Oregon St., when Conforto homered over the bleachers in right field in the 4th inning, which also scored Andy Peterson, who had led off the inning with a single up the middle, to put the Beavers up 2-0.
It was Conforto's 10th home run of the season, making him the first Beaver to have double digit home runs 2 seasons in a row since Andy Jarvis did it in 2001 and 2002.
It looked like it might be enough, as senior Matt Boyd, making his final start at Goss Stadium, turned in a tremendous performance, throwing 123 pitches but allowing only 5 hits in the 7 innings he worked. The 6th inning, in which Boyd hit back to back Wildcat batters, which pushed Kivett across, was his only rough stretch, but Boyd responded with a ground out to get out of further trouble, and proceeded to set Kansas St. down in order in the 7th inning.
It wound up being the 4th consecutive series in which Boyd gave Oregon St. a quality start but didn't get a win, and the second series in 3 weeks where he turned a lead over to the Beaver bullpen, which couldn't hold it.
"Matt Boyd pitched well enough to win the ballgame," Oregon St. head coach Pat Casey said. "We didn't score him any runs. We left runners on base and didn't capitalize on opportunities when we had those chances. We had the lead in our ballpark and it just didn't hold."
Scott Schultz got an out with 1 pitch, but then gave up a single that Peterson made a great play to knock down, but then couldn't convert, and that led to Max Englebrekt, as Oregon St. pitching coach Nate Yeski went for the lefty on righty matchup.
Englebrekt gave up a pair of full count walks before getting a strikeout, but then strained his back, and had to give way to Fry. Fry got out of the inning, and as noted was a strike away from the win when Kivett came through with his triple. As a result, Fry took the loss, in his first decision of the year, having worked only 2 2/3 innings prior to tonight this season.
"He had a spasm in his back somehow," Casey explained. "Right now, I don't know what his condition is, but obviously he was unable to pitch. We were comfortable with Jace (Fry) though. It's just an unfortunate situation, but it didn't have anything to do with the outcome."
Joe Flattery, who started for Kansas St. allowed only 4 hits in 5 innings, before handing the ball off to Nate Williams, who shut Oregon St. out for 3 innings prior to Matthys finishing the job.
After Conforto's homer, Kansas St. catcher Blair DeBord quickly calmed Flattery's nerves.
"I went out and told him, ‘look, trust us," DeBord said. "When have we never scored runs? We are going to score runs, just trust us."
The only time Kansas St. was shutout this season was by Northern Colorado, a 3-0 loss back on March 13.
Flattery proceeded to set down the next 5 Beaver batters.
"Our thought and our approach to the game is that we know we are going to score and we know we are going to get runs," Witt said. "The first guy (Matt Boyd) had us. He was confusing us. He could pitch inside, he could pitch away. He had all the stuff, but in the dugout it feels like we are going to score. It took a little while today, until the ninth, where we really go a couple of good hits."
The loss was only the 5th this season at Goss for Oregon St. in 30 games, and was just the second loss at home in postseason play under Casey, the other coming in the middle game of the 2005 Super Regional against USC. That was another case of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, as the Beavers had an 8-3 lead before losing 10-8.
The Beavers will now be the ones battling back, presumably going with freshman Andrew Moore in the second game of the series tomorrow night. First pitch is slated for 7:00 PM and will be televised on ESPNU.
Oregon St. has not lost the next day they played after suffering a loss all season, and 4 times it has been Moore who has righted the ship, turning in 3 wins and a save in bounce back days.
Conforto felt the comeback is achievable. "We've done this before," Conforto said. "We did this against Oregon. We did this against Washington State. We did this against UCLA. We've been in this position before."
(Connor Pelton also contributed to this report.)