NCAA COLLEGE WORLD SERIES CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES OREGON STATE 5, ARKANSAS 3:

With Hogs 1 strike from title, foul-ball gaffe, HR force finale

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Thursday, June 28, 2018
Oregon State players celebrate after Trevor Larnach hit a home run during the ninth inning of a College World Series final game against Arkansas on Wednesday, June 27, 2018, in Omaha, Neb.
Photo by Ben Goff
Oregon State players celebrate after Trevor Larnach hit a home run during the ninth inning of a College World Series final game against Arkansas on Wednesday, June 27, 2018, in Omaha, Neb.

OMAHA, Neb. -- The stage was literally almost set for the Arkansas Razorbacks to celebrate their first baseball national title Wednesday night.

With CWS officials waiting in the first base tunnel holding a portable stage with two outs in the top of the ninth inning, Razorbacks closer Matt Cronin induced a high foul ball from Oregon State's Cadyn Grenier down the right-field line.

Three University of Arkansas, Fayetteville players -- infielders Carson Shaddy and Jared Gates and right fielder Eric Cole -- raced toward the would-be winning out with the Hogs ahead by a run. But nobody could make the catch.

Given a second chance, Grenier punched a single into left field to score pinch-runner Zach Clayton with the tying run. Trevor Larnach followed with a two-run home run to vault the Beavers to a 5-3 victory before a crowd of 25,580 at TD Ameritrade Park to tie the College World Series championship series at 1-1.

"I was feeling good, expecting to finish the ballgame right there and win a natty [national title]. But it didn't work out the way we wanted it," Cronin said. "So we're going to regroup and get it tomorrow."

The Razorbacks (48-20) had been 44-0 this season when leading after eight innings.

Grenier, who went 3 for 5 with 2 RBI, said the missed foul pop up felt like an extra life.

"You take it as it was, that's a gift," Grenier said. "And it's a new life, and you do what you can with it."

Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn was asked how the Razorbacks would respond to a "devastating" loss.

"I'm not going to call it a devastating loss," Van Horn said. "I'm still standing here. Nobody's dead, you know? We're just here.

"It's baseball. It was a tough play. It was kind of in the triangle over there with the seats coming up. We're here and still playing. You just have to fight through it. Baseball's a tough game. It's not a fair game all the time."

Arkansas will go for the title today at 5:30 p.m. with right-hander Isaiah Campbell (5-6, 4.12 ERA) on the mound. The Beavers (54-12-1), who won their fifth consecutive elimination game at Omaha, will be going for their third College World Series title after winning back-to-back crowns in 2006-2007.

Teams designated as the visitors are now 12-3 in this CWS, and the Razorbacks will play as the visitors tonight.

Oregon State Coach Pat Casey did not announce a starting pitcher for today, but said he doubted any of his pitchers could be available for as many as five innings in the finale.

'We never quit," Casey said. "We would tell you that there were crushing runs throughout the game that could have got us down, and I think we got frustrated, but we never gave in."

A crowd dominated by fans wearing Razorbacks red were treated to the biggest back-and-forth game in a CWS final in years. The teams were tied at the end of three innings and traded three leads before the Beavers struck the decisive blows.

Arkansas relievers Kole Ramage, Barrett Loseke and Cronin (2-2) had been strong into the ninth inning, holding the hard-hitting Beavers off the board for 4 1/3 innings. Ramage, a freshman who escaped jams in the fifth and sixth, stood to be the winning pitcher before the late rally against a tiring Cronin, who was pitching for the second consecutive night.

"I knew I was a little gassed in that ninth," Cronin said. "I could just feel it in my arm. It wasn't feeling all the way like I knew it would be."

Jake Mulholland closed the game for Oregon State with a come backer 1-4-3 double play to notch his 16th save, the relay from Nick Madrigal getting the speedy Casey Martin on a head-first slide at first base.

Freshman right-hander Kevin Abel (7-1), the star of Oregon State's Bracket 1 clinching victory over Mississippi State, worked a scoreless eighth inning to pick up the victory.

Larnach's two-run shot in the ninth was just the third allowed by Cronin this season. The left-hander got the final two outs of the eighth inning but ran into trouble by walking eight-hole batter Zak Taylor on a 3-2 pitch to open the ninth. Andy Armstrong sacrificed pinch runner Zach Clayton to second, then Madrigral's grounder to first moved him to third.

Grenier hit his high fly ball, and in this instance the roaring crowd probably hurt the Hogs as none of the defenders could hear the others calling for it as they sprinted to the spot.

"It was a long run for everybody, kind of in no-man's land in foul territory," Gates said. "Not an easy play for anybody, so ... you guys saw what happened. Just tough luck, I guess."

Shaddy appeared to call for the ball, but he over-ran it and it bounced free a few feet behind him as Cole, who had a better angle, was pulling up.

"It's a tough play," Shaddy said. "I was running and didn't hear anybody call it, so I just kept running trying to make the play and over-ran it. It's a tough break. Just have to get back out tomorrow and we're really confident in Isaiah and we're ready to go."

Catcher Grant Koch echoed his fellow Fayetteville native.

"We're all ready to play," Koch said. "It's one more day for us to be a Razorback, and that's all you can ask. [Campbell] is going to battle out there for us. He's been really, really good of late."

Larnach, who has 14 hits at the CWS, went 2 for 5 with 2 RBI.

"We never had a doubt," Larnach told ESPN. "We knew when the time came, we'd come through."

Van Horn said his team, which has been out-hit by Oregon State 21-12 through two games, must get more offensive in the finale.

"We've got to swing the bats a lot better," he said. "We haven't swung the bats good for two days. And we've been relying on pitching and they gave us another great effort today ... and we just didn't score enough runs."

The Razorbacks caught some fortunate breaks in the middle innings that seemed to steer them toward a victory and what would have been a 5-0 run through Omaha before the fateful ninth.

Arkansas took the lead in the second with plenty of gifts from the Beavers after Shaddy's leadoff single. Bryce Fehmel hit Jared Gates with an 0-2 pitch, and with two outs he walked Jax Biggers to load the bases, then threw a wild pitch to bring in the game's first run.

The Beavers tied it in the fourth on Adley Rutschman's home run, his ninth of the year, into the Arkansas bullpen in left field.

Oregon State used small ball, capped by Grenier's bases-loaded single, to take a 2-1 lead in the fifth.

Arkansas bounced right back by plating two runs in the bottom of the fifth with the aid of a couple of bloop singles. Martin reached on a hard-hit single under Madrigal's glove at second base. Flares by Heston Kjerstad and Luke Bonfield landed between defenders in the outfield, and Martin scored the tying run just ahead of a throw to the plate. Shaddy delivered a two-out single, the Hogs' first two-strike RBI hit of the series to seize a 3-2 lead.

That score held until the drama of the ninth inning.

Shaddy was asked if he thought that inning signaled the Razorbacks were headed toward a victory.

"Both teams think they need to win and think they're going to win," Shaddy said. "That's really the only answer I can give you. We got that hit and went up and held them for three innings and looked like it was right there for us. And some tough breaks happened."

Sports on 06/28/2018

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