Not long after the final out was recorded in Oregon State's 4-1, season ending loss against Mississippi State last June, a common sentiment was shared across Beaver Nation. This hurts, but the pieces are in place for a return to Omaha. Then, in mid-July, starting pitcher Ben Wetzler announced he would be returning for his Senior season. All of the sudden, fans weren't only hoping for another College World Series appearance, they were expecting one.
And now we sit here, 12 months removed from that trip to America's heartland, wondering what in the world happened.
I know I was worried about how the team would handle the lofty expectations placed upon them. Sure, we had been highly rated coming into a season before. But top three in the country? That was nearly unprecedented. The 3-1 start in Tempe settled my nerves, and when we took three in a row from the Big Ten conference the next weekend, including a dominating performance by Jace Fry against fifth-ranked Indiana, I was ecstatic.
I don't really believe that one game can sum up a season, but if possible, the Washington contest to close the two-week trip to Arizona accomplished it. One step forward, two steps back was a familiar mantra throughout the spring, and it started when the Huskies ripped us for 11 runs on that Monday morning.
I know the fans were feeling comfortable heading into conference play. Granted, we were coming off back-to-back losses to Northern Illinois and Ohio State, but starting freshmen pitchers in those two gave us an excuse. And then came Utah weekend. The worst weekend. I don't know what the combined total of runs allowed ended up being; I stopped watching after the first seven innings of each game. But the losing streak was now at five, we were out of the polls completely, and I was officially worried.
When Pat Casey announced Andrew Moore would miss his Arizona State start with soreness in his throwing elbow, no one thought anything of it. Sure, he'd miss a big game, but he'd be back in a week. But somewhere deep in the back of my head, I knew. "Soreness". It always starts with soreness. Casey confirmed ten days later that Moore was done for the year.
The five game skid turned into seven, and seven turned into nine of ten. Were things going to turn around after Scott Schultz's complete game performance to take a series win at Arizona? No one got too long to ponder that question, because two days later Portland hammered the Beavers 6-0 on the Bluff.
"That's baseball", said grumbling fans filing out of Goss Stadium after giving up a three run lead in the ninth inning against Stanford, capped by a Cardinal grand slam. Was it "baseball" the next day when the Cards scored five runs when up against their final out? Back in February I was worried how we would finish games with our two main closers gone from 2013. Schultz had settled into that role nicely, but after being forced into the weekend rotation due to Moore's injury, it was closer by committee. And boy that committee sucked.
The one highlight of this season came on Civil War weekend. Following a series loss at Washington State and a split against Sacramento State, the Beavs were sitting at 19-18. If a push for the postseason was to start, it had to start against the Ducks. One Oregonian writer would go on to call the series "boring", but three 1-0 victories, with all three runs coming in walkoff fashion, was anything but a bore for Oregon State fans.
The month of May is a blur. Each national publication seemed to alternate in or out in their NCAA Tournament projections when it came to the Beavers and the bubble. One week we would pick up momentum; the next we would lose it all in brilliant fashion.
I'm tired of this. No one asked me to write a 800 word thesis about the season just hours after watching the Selection Show and not seeing the words "OREGON STATE" come across the screen. I don't know why I even watched this year. The general consensus was that we would need two wins at USC to close the season and make a Regional. We got none. There will be no return to Omaha. No more dogpiles. No more baseball.
The program is not in trouble, by any means. Casey is not on the hot seat, no matter what an internet message board might tell you. The team has loads of talent returning and a good recruiting class coming in. But let's make a deal. Next spring, when the preseason polls start to trickle out, don't overreact. As we learned over the last four months, a lot can happen.
Happy Memorial Day, I guess. 96 days until kickoff.