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Oregon State back in finals; Rice-UNC to tussle again

6/21/2007

FROM THE BOOTH

By Kyle Peterson, ESPN.com | Kyle Peterson Archive

Oregon State is back in the College World Series finals after eliminating upstart UC Irvine 7-1 on Wednesday. OSU is the only team that hasn't lost in Omaha, as Rice dropped its first game of the CWS to North Carolina earlier in the day.

It's 2006 all over again. Last year's College World Series saw a Beavers team come out of the losers' bracket to win two straight against Rice, setting up a best-of-three series with North Carolina.

2007 has North Carolina emerging from the losers' bracket, needing only a win Thursday against Rice (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET) to meet Oregon State in the finals.

It's an unlikely scenario for these teams to be in, but for none more so than the defending champs, perhaps. Both Oregon State and North Carolina suffered huge losses to graduation and the draft. Few could have imagined the type of success these teams are having.

Oregon State lost key role players in last year's run, but the holdovers from the title team are showing the benefits of experience. Mitch Canham, Daniel Turpen and Darwin Barney were exceptional against the Anteaters, never allowing Irvine to gain momentum. Much of Oregon State's success can be attributed to coach Pat Casey. He commands instant respect and, as a former player, understands the mentality of those who play for him. Guys respect those who have played the game.

The Beavers boast three very, very talented starters: Mike Stutes, Jorge Reyes and Turpen. They're set up perfectly for the championship series, as they've been able to treat the entire tournament like three-game series. Their pitchers will have normal rest.

Oregon State very nearly missed the NCAA Tournament entirely. But the Beavers have treated the postseason like an entirely different season, focusing on their experience here last year instead of their troubles mere weeks before. They play with so much confidence. They're comfortable playing in Rosenblatt Stadium, in front of huge crowds, with their playoff life hanging in the balance. And that has paid huge dividends for them so far.

Of course, North Carolina and Rice are no strangers to playing deep into June. Much as with Oregon State, it's clear UNC is benefiting from last year's winning ways. The Tar Heels finally started swinging the bats today, and ace Robert Woodard bounced back unbelievably will from a rough start. Although UNC had to fight its way through the losers' bracket, it matches up very well with Rice.

Rice enters the game as the higher seed and having played fewer CWS games, but it might not be the favorite Thursday. Rice often gets overlooked because it's so steady; the Owls are good at pitching, hitting and defense, but not great.

If the Tar Heels come out attacking as they did Wednesday, there's a very good chance we'll see a rematch of the 2006 CWS finals. And that's something no one outside these two teams could have expected.

Kyle Peterson was a three-time All-American at Stanford and is a college baseball analyst for ESPN.

POSTSEASON PROWESS

By Curt McKeever, Special to ESPN.com

OMAHA, Neb. -- His Oregon State Beavers are living such a charmed life at the College World Series that Pat Casey no longer considers bunting with one out a roll of the dice.

Twice during Wednesday night's 7-1 victory over UC Irvine -- a result that put the defending national champions back in the best-of-three title series to face either the team it defeated last year, North Carolina, or Rice -- Oregon State sacrificed to move a runner up for the second out of an inning.

The first such instance came in the third inning of a scoreless game, and guess what? Irvine third baseman Tyler Vaughn made a throwing error after fielding a grounder hit by the next batter, Mike Lissman, and before the Anteaters could get back to their dugout, they trailed 4-0.

"It's not always the long ball for us," noted junior Oregon State shortstop Darwin Barney, a fourth-round draft pick of the Chicago Cubs and one of two returning position starters from the 2006 club. "Little things get us going, and we're the kind of club that if we get going, we're tough to beat."

Read the full story here.


NUMBERS GAME

Wednesday's Stats of the Day from ESPN Research
1 Dustin Ackley leads the Tar Heels with a .400 batting average, but he was in a major slump entering this game. Ackley was hitting .442 entering the ACC tournament championship game May 27 but had gone 5-for-38 (.132) since. Ackley effectively ended that slump Wednesday, going 2-for-5 at the plate -- including a three-run homer in the seventh inning.

11 The Anteaters have been the leaders of the 2007 CWS hit-by-pitch parade. In three games, there have been 11 UCI players plunked, which ties the CWS record for one team (Cal State Fullerton, 2003). Leadoff batter Taylor Holiday has been hit four times. This is not a fluke, though. Irvine ranks among the most-hit teams in NCAA history.

3Rice has scored a grand total of one run in its past three games in which it had a chance to clinch a spot in the CWS championship series. Last year, the Owls were beaten 5-0 and 2-0 by Oregon State.

52 Oregon State has not trailed in its past 52 innings, going back to the regional championship game against Virginia on June 5. The Beavers also have a streak of 41 consecutive innings without trailing at the CWS, which dates back to last year. OSU has allowed three or fewer runs in eight of its 10 NCAA Tournament games this year.


INSIDE THE NUMBERS

In North Carolina's first two games, the team that looked so dominant in the regular season suddenly looked very flawed. The Tar Heels couldn't eke more than an inning or two out of their starters, and their normally powerful bats fell silent.

It became very clear in the super regional round, however, that North Carolina had no intention of being sent home early. After finishing their 2006 season as the College World Series runner-up, the Heels are doing everything they can to keep playing. It has worked in two straight elimination games, as UNC's pitching has come up with lights-out performances and the team is finally swinging the bats. The Heels need to win one more against Rice on Thursday to clinch a spot in the championship series.