OMAHA, NE- Lengthy weather delays are a funny thing. And not funny like ha-ha funny, because let’s be honest, there was nothing funny about the four-hour, 31-minute delay Oregon State and Washington endured during their elimination game that began Monday afternoon.
They’re funny in that it resets the game and leaves momentum up to either team to grab, and usually, it seems like you find out which team has grabbed that momentum within minutes of the game re-starting.
On Monday evening, when things got going again, that team was Oregon State.
When lightning strikes got too close to the stadium to continue playing in the top of the sixth, Oregon State had the bases loaded with two outs, trailing Washington 5-4.
From there, as the teams got back out on the field, Alex Hardy took the mound for Washington and walked Tyler Malone to bring in the tying run. Just as crucially, after they tied the game, Kevin Abel came back out for OSU after the rain delay in the bottom of the sixth, a decision that could easily have backfired on head coach Pat Casey and his staff, and threw a 1-2-3 frame.
And in the seventh and eighth, the Beavers poured it on as they worked their way to an eventual 14-5 win.
In the seventh, after a Nick Madrigal single with one out and an intentional walk of Adley Rutschmann with two outs, Michael Gretler doubled down the left field line to put OSU on top 6-5. The next batter, Kyle Nobach, gave them some breathing room with a three-run homer to right field. The park played much smaller after the weather delay, due in large part to the lack of the stiff wind that had been ever-present during the first two days of this event, and Nobach took advantage, as his homer cleared the fence with so little room to spare that the play was reviewed, with the call eventually upheld.
Then, in the eighth, the Beavers added five more runs, including a solo homer from Tyler Malone to begin the inning. Later in the frame, Rutschmann added an RBI single, Gretler had an RBI single, and Jack Anderson added a two-run double.
It speaks to the type of impressive depth OSU boasts that players like Nobach and Malone were among the brightest stars on this day.
Nobach has largely been a part-time player this season, but he’s made the most of his opportunities and he’s had some big hits of late, including a game-tying single in the eighth inning of the clinching game of the super regional against Minnesota, off of electric Golden Gophers closer Max Meyer, no less. Today’s game-changing homer was just the next in line. The big hits have been gratifying moments for Nobach as well, given that he was out during OSU’s Omaha run last season due to an injury.
“It was really difficult. Probably one of the toughest things I’ve done in my life, which is probably good,” Nobach said of his missed time last June. “There’s people that have gone through a lot harder things than I have. I tried to continue to work and put in the time in the weight room and that really helped me. I put on some good muscle and kept hitting, and that’s what motivates me, too, as well. People are motivated by different things. And it hurt to watch because you want to be out there and play with your brothers. And I finally get to do it.”
Malone is in a similar boat as far as playing time goes. He hasn’t been in the lineup everyday, but he’s found ways to contribute. His home run on Monday was his sixth of the season. With about half the number of at-bats that a regular in the lineup would have, that’s no small feat.
From the sounds of it, it was a pretty loose Oregon State locker room during the delay, even as they were looking at being ten outs from their season coming to a close. In that way, perhaps it shouldn’t be any surprise that they came out of the delay undeterred and ready to go.
“We played a little game called Mafia,” Malone said of his team’s time-killing activities. “It’s a little game we played together.”
When members of the media, not as well-versed in these types of games often played during delays and road trips, asked for clarification on Mafia, Malone complied.
“You got a mafia. You got a sheriff. And then you have a doctor,” Malone said. “So the mafia chooses who they want to kill or take out of the town. And the sheriffs try to determine who was in the mafia, and then the doctor tries to save, and then there’s an open discussion. So it gets pretty heated. It’s pretty fun.”
“A lot of debate,” Nobach added.
Prior to the rain delay, we had a back-and-forth game on our hands. Neither OSU’s Bryce Fehmel or UW’s Jordan Jones were able to give their team much of an extended start.
The former was done after four innings, giving up seven hits and four runs, which allowed the Huskies to jump out to an early lead. Meanwhile, the latter looked something close to dominant early in the game. The only batters who had reached against him to that point were Nick Madrigal, who got on with an infield single in the first, and Jack Anderson, who walked in the third, but was quickly erased on a double play. In the fifth, though, after getting two quick outs, Jones allowed singles to Nobach and Anderson, and that was it for the UW righty. Josh Burgmann came on for Jones and OSU responded by erupting for four runs with two outs in the inning, turning a 3-0 deficit into a 4-3 lead.
Washington, for their part, came back with two runs of their own in the bottom of the fifth, which gave them the 5-4 lead that they wouldn’t be able to hold after coming back from the delay.
With the loss, the Huskies are going home. They’ll be disappointed, but they really did impress through the first 16 innings they played here in Omaha. On Saturday, they took a 0-0 tie with Mississippi State to the bottom of the ninth inning before MSU’s continued walk-off magic proved to be too much, and before the lightning came on Monday, they were in position to eliminate one of the two pre-tournament prohibitive favorites to win the national title in Oregon State.
Just getting to Omaha is a major accomplishment, and that’s not lost on Washington head coach Lindsay Meggs, even in the aftermath of a tough loss.
“Really proud of our guys,” Meggs said. “We’ve come a long way. There was a time when we were 18-18 and kind of up against the wall and could have easily rolled over with some of the injury issues we had and some of the difficult starts we had. But our guys really love to play. They love to play the game of baseball. They love the game itself. They love each other. They fought for each other. And this is a tough way to end your season. And we talked about that after the game that I don’t want to talk about tonight’s game, I want to talk about how far you guys have come.”
Overall, this was a landmark season for Washington. Prior to this season, they hadn’t even been to a super regional, much less to the College World Series, and now they will look to use this success as a springboard.
For a template on how to do so, they only need to look at the team that was seated in the opposite dugout on Monday. In OSU’s first trip to the CWS under Pat Casey, in 2005, they went 0-2, but in the two following seasons, they won the national championship.
That’s not to say that Washington is poised to win a national title in one or both of the next two years, but it serves to show that even a quick exit from the College World Series is a foundational event for a program that hadn’t been before, or hadn’t been in a long time, as was the case with Oregon State.
Meggs agrees, and is ready to work toward the next step.
“Getting here is a breakthrough for us,” he said. “It’s a significant step toward where we want to be. We want to be an Omaha program. We want people to think of us as somebody who belongs here…And again I’ll credit Oregon State because of the fact that they had done what they’ve done in the northwest, it has proven that cold weather schools, if you will, can make this happen if you have the support and the facilities and we do. And the University of Washington is a great place to go to school. I think we’re going to continue to recruit great student-athletes, and I think we’re going to be back.”
For now, though, Oregon State was simply better this time around. They took the bull by the horns after the weather forced play to stop, and they never looked back. They’ve still got a lot of work ahead of them to get all the way back to the championship series next week, but given their battle-tested nature in the crucible of the College World Series, anything is possible.