Coming into the 2016 final regular season game Oregon State's (34-19, 15-14) baseball team was looking to rediscover their strong play during the beginning of the season, which saw the Beavers reach the top five of the national rankings (placement depending on what poll was being referenced).
But it was also a season that saw OSU not escape what has been one of the stranger, and wilder Pac-12 seasons in recent years. The Beavers looked poised to live up to their preseason pick to win the conference after an impressive sweep of Arizona State to then be returned the sweep favor by Cal, and losing their ace Drew Rasmussen for the season caused the young pitching rotation to be tested week in and week out.
Oregon State though finished solid, winning their last two conference series that included winning five of their six last games, which most impressively included a strong series sweep over UCLA (25-30, 12-17).
With the season not yet done questions still abound. Is it enough of a turnaround to make the Beavs competitive in what will be a tough on-the-road NCAA Regional test? How deep can Oregon State continue to get their three main pitchers in the postseason? Will the return of Nick Madrigal continue to spark the team? Will offensive leaders Logan Ice (in what will most likely be his last games for OSU) and KJ Harrison find their bats against top-notch pitching away from the friendly confines of Goss Stadium? How will OSU pitching hold up against better offenses? These are questions that will be soon answered as the Beavs extend their 2016 season.
In a sunny Sunday match up LHP Luke Heimlich (6-4, 3.94) got the start for Oregon State, which was a start following up what maybe was some of the best pitching of the season from Bryce Fehmel and Travis Eckert. Both previous OSU pitchers went deep into their games (Fehmel pitching a complete game) to shut out the Bruins in each of the first two games. UCLA went with RHP Jake Bird (1-5, 6.64) as their starting pitcher.
In the first inning Heimlich overcame a two out single on what looked like a bomb to the left field fence by Luke Persico that stayed in the park for the third out. Oregon State was able to get their lead off batter on when Kyle Nobach beat out a throw that drew the Bruins' first baseman off the bag, and he then moved over into scoring position on a wild pitch. Christian Donahue then ripped a single down the third base line to draw first blood of the game scoring Nobach, but Donahue was not able to sneak out a double on the play and was thrown out at second. UCLA was able to limit the damage to just that one run, but it was an early run in a series that had not seen a lot of scoring by either team in the previous two games.
UCLA then made its own noise in the second after Heimlich hit the lead off batter and gave up an infield single that went off his leg to put the first two batters on base with no outs. A sacrifice bunt moved both Bruins' runners over into scoring position with one out, but along with some solid defensive help Heimlich continued UCLA's stranded base runners streak and got of the inning without giving up any runs.
The game continued to highlight more offense for Oregon State as Logan Ice led off the bottom of the second with a single, which was quickly followed by a Billy King double to left field. Trevor Larnach then forced a walk, which also saw Ice score from third on the wild pitch to put the Beavs up 2 to 0. Oregon State was not quite done scoring as Trever Morrison beat out what looked to be a possible double play and scored King to give OSU an early in the game 3 to 0 lead.
The three runs helped settle down Luke Heimlich as he was able to retire the next seven batters in a row, again at times with some excellent defensive play by players like Morrison at shortstop and Madrigal at second. On the other side though the OSU bats also calmed down through the next few innings.
The Bruins finally looked ready to break out of their scoring slump with a Daniel Rosica triple in the top of the fifth, but UCLA again left a runner out on the bases as Heimlich pitched his way out of the inning.
Even though Oregon State's offense was not clicking as well as early on UCLA did go to reliever RHP Nathan Hadley (1-0, 5.40) in the bottom of the seventh inning. Hadley's first batter was Billy King who led off with a walk, then Steven Kwan moved King over on a sacrifice bunt. This was more than enough OSU offense for the Bruins who made another move the bullpen bringing in LHP Justin Hooper (1-1, 16.88). Hooper though left the game after only one batter, Morrison who walked, and RHP Scott Burke (2-2, 4.17) came in to get his first batter out. Burke though next hit Kyle Nobach to load the bases and gave up the fourth run of the game by walking Nick Madrigal.
The UCLA pitching carousel in the seventh continued as Burke gave way to LHP Garrett Barker (0-0, 0.00), a pitcher who had faced just one batter all season so far. Christian Donahue promptly took advantage of Barker's lack of experience and put the Beavs up 6 to 0 with a single to right field. Next up for the Bruins was RHP Tucker Forbes (1-2, 4.32), who walked KJ Harrison on four straight pitches to again load the bases for Oregon State. Forbes finally ended the inning by getting Ice to fly out to center field.
Luke Heimlich was in full control of his pitches as he retired the last six UCLA batters of the game and was able to go the distance to pitch his first complete game, and the second OSU complete game of the series in a row, and he struck out a career high 8 batters. UCLA's RHP Moises Ceja (2-1, 2.70) closed out the game for the Bruins. Oregon State ended the game scoring six runs on seven hits, and the Beavs had no errors. UCLA finished with zero runs on five hits and also had no errors.
In addition to being the first time Oregon State has ever shut out an opponent in all 3 games of a series, it is the first time UCLA has ever been shut out in 3 games in a row, never mind all in the same series.
Now the Beavers will do the waiting game Monday morning to see where the selection committee sends them for the College World Series Regional. And on a side note with Utah demolishing Washington today the Utes will get the Pac-12's only automatic bid.