Just when you think you have college baseball figured out, it pulls the rug out from under you.
When North Carolina took a 5-0 lead in the fourth inning, everyone thought the game -- and the series -- was over. Andrew Woodard had kept the Beavers off the basepaths, and the Tar Heels' relievers had yet to give up a run in the College World Series. Although Oregon State was undefeated when it scored first, the Beavers had yet to show they could come back from a serious deficit.
That all changed in just 15 minutes.
After a series of defensive mistakes -- including two misplayed bunts and a passed ball -- and a three-run homer from Beavers first baseman Bill Rowe, Oregon State took a 7-5 lead, effectively changing the course of the game. Woodard was pulled after he gave up four runs, only to have reliever Matt Danford give up six more. Although North Carolina wasn't charged with any errors, the fielders' mental mistakes cost the Tar Heels on the scoreboard. Oregon State hung on for a convincing 11-7 win. The victory ties the series and forces a deciding Game 3 on Monday (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET).
Momentum was the story of the game, and it has played a large part in the tournament. Legendary Texas baseball coach Augie Garrido preaches the importance of momentum to his players; at this stage of the series, every pitch and every out matters greatly. Momentum means more when you're hanging on every play. If you've got the momentum, it's easier to play loose. Oregon State has the momentum now, as well as the support of a large crowd in Rosenblatt Stadium. The Beavers probably wish that Game 3 started 15 minutes after Game 2 ended.
North Carolina still holds the edge over Oregon State in the pitching department. The Tar Heels didn't turn to many of their main guys (like Jonathan Hovis and Andrew Carignan) in the bullpen on Sunday, ensuring they would be fresh for Monday's contest. The Tar Heels will start Daniel Bard, a junior right-hander who boasts a mid-90s fastball. North Carolina ace Andrew Miller, who started Saturday's contest, could pitch an inning or two of relief. As good as Miller has been as a starter in Omaha, he has been unbelievable in relief. Miller hit 100 mph in his last relief outing and was throwing with absolute authority. North Carolina has more pitching options available than Oregon State, and I think coach Mike Fox will keep Bard on a short leash.
Oregon State, on the other hand, will patch together a staff, and many of those pitchers will be working on short rest. The expected starter is Jonah Nickerson, the hero of the College World Series. Not only did Nickerson carry the Beavers to their first win in Omaha, he was also on the mound for Thursday night's elimination game against No. 2 seed Rice. Nickerson proved he is formidable on a few days' rest -- how long he lasts on Monday will tell how well Oregon State will do. If he only lasts three or four innings, the Beavers are in trouble. Anything more than six is a bonus.
Oregon State coach Pat Casey decided to keep closer Kevin Gunderson in for 5 1/3 innings, effectively ending any chance he could pitch on Monday. Gunderson has been spectacular throughout the tournament, and Oregon State could use him on Monday. In his stead, they'll rely on Eddie Kunz.
The Beavers' offensive output in Sunday's game was surprising; they haven't shown the ability to score at will or put together a big inning in the tournament. The pressure is on North Carolina to get ahead early in Game 3 -- Oregon State now has confidence that its offense can come from behind if needed. North Carolina has yet to come back from a loss in the NCAA baseball tournament, and the Tar Heels looked pretty shocked at the end of Game 2. If Oregon State jumps out to an early lead, it will be able to keep the momentum from Sunday night on its side. If North Carolina is going to win Game 3, the Tar Heels will have to catch the ball and make plays.
I picked North Carolina to win it in three games, and I'm sticking with the Tar Heels, but the Beavers showed Sunday night just how much heart they have.
|UNC bullpen in College World Series|
|First four games||12.2||9||0|
On The Mound
North Carolina's bullpen had to allow a run sooner or later -- although coach Mike Fox probably wasn't expecting Oregon State's offensive onslaught. The first 12 2/3 perfect innings helped the Tar Heels make it through Omaha undefeated. With Jonathan Hovis and Andrew Carignan on the mound for Monday's game, expect near-perfect numbers again.
|PHOTO OF THE DAY|
AP Photo/Eric Francis
Oregon State's John Wallace lies at third base after being tagged out by North Carolina third baseman Reid Fronk on an attempted steal in the second inning. This baserunning gaffe seemed to spell doom for the Beavers, but they rallied in the fourth inning for the win.
Oregon State evens the series
|STOCK UP/stock down|
|North Carolina's defense fell apart in Game 2. The Tar Heels might not have racked up the errors, but the mental mistakes were costly on the scoreboard.|
|Mitch Canham||Oregon State||C|
|Canham picked off two baserunners and went 3-for-3 at the plate, scoring one run.|
|Bill Rowe||Oregon State||1B|
|Rowe, who went undrafted in the 50-round MLB draft earlier this month, was 2-for-5 with a three-run homer and four RBI in Game 2. He is now hitting .458 (11-for-24) in the CWS and leads the Beavers with 18 RBI in the tournament.|
|Josh Horton||North Carolina||SS|
|Horton, who was hitting .409 for the season entering the weekend, went 0-for-5 Sunday and is now 0-for-8 in the championship series.|
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