Surprise, AZ -- It took a little longer than expected, but Oregon State was able to turn a pitcher's duel into a blowout in Saturday's meeting with Kansas at Surprise Stadium.
Trailing 2-1 with two runners on and one out in the top of the eighth inning, head coach Pat Casey called upon junior Billy King to pinch hit in place of Zak Taylor. The move paid off.
King lifted the fifth pitch he saw deep into right field, the ball having just enough on it to climb over the fence and land inside the Jayhawk bullpen. His blast gave the Beavers a 4-2 lead, opening the offensive floodgates for what would eventually be a 9-3 victory.
The Kansas pitching staff did a tremendous job of holding Oregon State's hot bats dormant for the majority of the afternoon. After allowing a single run in the top of the first, starting pitcher Ben Krauth kept the Beavers at bay for the next six innings. Not only did Casey's team not score in that stretch, but they were also unable to get a baserunner past second base.
Putting a rough start to the season behind him, right-hander Travis Eckert was game for a pitcher's duel as well.
Eckert was equally impressive, with his only misstep coming in the bottom half of the second inning. The Jayhawks (playing as the home team), pieced together back-to-back base hits to start the frame, then brought home the tying run via a pair of sacrifices.
The senior cruised through the next four frames, matching the zeroes that his counterpart in the opposing dugout was putting up. Eckert relied on a stout defense behind him at multiple points, including in the bottom of the sixth when it appeared that Kansas was starting to figure out the right-hander.
With one out and a runner on first, cleanup man Michael Tinsley ripped an 0-2 pitch into the hole between first and second. It appeared that the ball would get through, but sensational freshman Nick Madrigal was able to snag it off one hop just in time. Madrigal threw off his back foot to second to get the lead runner, and the relay back to first beat Tinsley by half a step to end the inning, and the threat.
The Beaver bench congratulates Madrigal and company after a big double play (credit: Connor Pelton)
Eckert's defense wasn't able to save him in the seventh, but his bullpen did a good job of limiting the damage to keep Oregon State in the game. Kansas grabbed a 2-1 lead after Eckert issued three consecutive singles to start the frame, but reliever Bryce Fehmel got his team out of the jam by coming into the game and retiring the first three batters he faced.
Seizing the momentum from Fehmel's brief relief stint, the Beavers finally found some offense in the eighth. Krauth was pulled from the game after throwing his 110th pitch in the inning prior, and his successor on the mound did not prove to be as effective.
A pair of walks issued by Sam Gilbert set the table for King, who was really just looking for a base hit somewhere in the outfield to tie the game. Instead, the junior picked up his first career home run, giving his team a two run advantage that felt even bigger than that with the way the game had gone so far.
The hitting ended up being contagious, as Oregon State drove in five more runs before the day was over. The Jayhawks were able to get one run back in the ninth, but by then the damage had been done.
Fehmel (3-0) was credited with the win, while Gilbert (0-1) took the loss for Kansas. 3,133 fans were in attendance at Surprise Stadium - the majority of which were dressed in orange and black.
Oregon State has now won five in a row and sits at 6-1 on the young season. The team will play one final game in Surprise on Sunday morning against the Jayhawks before heading up to San Diego for another round robin tournament.