OMAHA, Neb. — Oregon State began looking ahead to the College World Series finals on Thursday, a day after beating UC Irvine 7-1 to enter the championship pairing for the second straight season.

OMAHA, Neb. — Oregon State began looking ahead to the College World Series finals on Thursday, a day after beating UC Irvine 7-1 to enter the championship pairing for the second straight season.

OSU (47-18 overall), the defending national champion, will open the best-of-three finals on Saturday at 4 p.m. Pacific against North Carolina in a rematch of last year's championship.

The Beavers will practice this afternoon at Rosenblatt Stadium. They held a late-morning practice at Creighton University Thursday, and before and after the workout, a throng of reporters interviewed players and coaches. A common theme was:

After losing five full-time position starters, two starting pitchers and the closer from a national championship team, how on earth did Oregon State make it back to Omaha, let alone be in position to play for a second straight national championship?

"I tell people every time they ask me if I expected to be here, that there was no doubt in my mind," OSU catcher Mitch Canham said. "The day after we won it last year, I knew we'd be back in this situation again. If you don't have that kind of confidence, you won't be here. Whether I forced myself to think it or whatever, I believe in my dreams and my dream was to come back here again. I wasn't going to cut myself short just thinking I'd make it to regionals or play a good season and have a good batting average or something like that. Nothing matters but coming back and winning another title."

Canham wasn't alone in being confident the Beavers could return to Omaha for a third straight season. Pitcher Joe Paterson, a bit player a year ago, knew it would be up to guys like him to make it happen.

"Being a person who was hoping to step into one of those bigger roles, I of course thought we were going to come back just because of the confidence I had," Paterson said. "I've always known what we have; at the beginning of the year I thought we were amazing, sweeping Georgia, we felt really good. I thought we could, but then it was a question of whether we'd get into a regional."

That came when OSU lost seven of nine games during a three-week stretch in May to finish in a tie for sixth place in the Pacific-10 Conference with a 10-14 record. But once the Beavers gained a spot in the 64-team field for the NCAA regionals, they began playing the same kind of ball that had carried them to a 23-3 start.

"It's been amazing since we got here," Paterson said of the postseason. "The bats have come alive and we've been pitching again, and it's been coming together. Now we need two more games of it, and we'll be there."

The Beavers have taken an easier road to the championship finals this time around. In 2006, OSU had to play six elimination games en route to the championship; this time, they won their first three to make the final pairing.

"From a catcher's standpoint, it's relaxing — not having to squat in the heat every day and grind it out," Canham said. "Darwin (Barney, OSU's shortstop) said yesterday that last year, it was like you went to the yard every day and never knew if you were coming back to the hotel for another day. You just enjoy every minute and every thing because it's so special — you don't know what's going to happen. This year, it's nice. We're playing at the top of our game right now, we're relaxed and having fun. Guys are running around the hotel having fun, going fishing, we're doing it right, rather than sitting around and being tense the whole time. We're loving it."

A year ago, Beaver second baseman Joey Wong watched on TV as OSU took the national title after wrapping up his final season of baseball at Sprague High in Salem. Now he finds himself in the middle of what he saw on the screen last June.

"When I decided to come here, I knew we could get back again," Wong said. "It just feels great to be here and be in the championship finals my first year. We've worked real hard, and hopefully we can keep it going."