Beavers miffed by tourney snub
Logan Ice genuinely believed Omaha was in the future.
So did Travis Eckert.
But unfortunately for Oregon State, the NCAA Division 1 Baseball Committee left the two-time national champions out of the postseason for the first time since 2008.
The Beavers felt their resume checked all the necessary boxes for an at-large bid. OSU finished with a solid overall record (35-19) and RPI (44) while tying for third in the Pac-12 Conference at 16-14.
It wasn’t enough for the selection committee.
“What they did to our kids is saddening,” OSU coach Pat Casey said. “When you coach, you sometimes get other opportunities. But when you’re a player and you don’t get another opportunity, it’s pretty difficult.”
“I don’t know if I’ll ever get over the snub,” added Ice, a junior catcher who is expected to be taken early in next week’s MLB Draft. “For some reason they decided we weren’t worthy, and unfortunately we can’t change that and vouch for ourselves.
“Honestly, from the bottom of my heart, I thought we had a shot to roll into Omaha and win the whole thing with the way we were playing.”
It’s easy to see why Ice felt that way.
OSU won five of its last six games to close the regular season, including three consecutive shutouts against UCLA. In the program’s 110-year history, OSU had never blanked the same team in three times in a row.
“It’s unfortunate when you know you’re getting hot literally at the time everybody wants to be hot,” Eckert said Friday as he watched Arizona State and Gonzaga play an opening-round NCAA tournament game. “Omaha was certainly in our thoughts, no doubt. It’s just rough when you know you deserve to be where ASU is, and they even got a two seed. So it’s all tough to deal with.”
The Beavers put themselves on the bubble by struggling in the middle of the year.
After racing out to a 16-2 start, OSU lost ace Drew Rasmussen to an elbow injury on March 24 at California. Rasmussen underwent Tommy John surgery and should be available to pitch at some point next season.
OSU dropped all three games against the Golden Bears and lost its next road series at last-place Washington State. The Beavers were later swept at Arizona as part of a five-game losing streak, the program’s first since 2011.
A home loss to Oregon on May 15, the rubber game of the Civil War series, left OSU 14-16 overall since the Rasmussen injury.
But the team rallied with series wins over USC and UCLA to close the regular season strong.
“We believe, and a lot of people believe, we were definitely worthy,” said Ice, the Pac-12’s defensive player of the year. “We caught a hot streak and we were playing really, really well at the end of the year. It sucks and it’s not how I wanted the year to end, how anyone wanted the year to end. But you can’t change it.”
Injuries played a major role in shaping the Pac-12 race.
OSU was picked to win the league in the preseason coaches poll, followed by UCLA, California, Oregon and USC. All five teams missed the postseason.
Major injuries caught up with the first three teams while Oregon (hitting) and USC (pitching) consistently struggled in key areas.
Utah, picked to finish last, won the conference with a losing overall record (25-27, 19-11). The Utes benefited from the rash of injuries around the league.
OSU outfielder Elliott Cary and projected weekend starting pitcher Sam Tweedt, both sophomores, missed the entire year while recovering from Tommy John surgery. Highly-touted freshman outfielder Trevor Larnach dealt with an early-season foot injury while returning sophomore closer Mitch Hickey never got on track following a preseason back strain.
Hard-throwing freshman lefty Christian Martinek was limited to just 2 2/3 innings after a slow recovery from an arm aneurysm. Second baseman Nick Madrigal, the Pac-12’s freshman of the year, missed five late-season games with a sore shoulder.
“We battled the whole year and played well through adversity,” sophomore first baseman KJ Harrison said. “We did the same thing last year when Trever (Morrison) went down and (Caleb Hamilton) stepped up and played shortstop. But obviously when you have some of your key players go down, it’s something that’s not very good.”
The numerous injuries forced pitching coach Nate Yeskie to get creative with his staff.
Eckert (6-4, 3.28 ERA), the team’s only senior, became the Friday night starter while sophomore left-hander Luke Heimlich (7-4, 3.53) found a home in the rotation. Freshman righty Bryce Fehmel (10-1, 2.31) was sensational in his last two starts, allowing one unearned run in 7 1/3 at USC before whirling a five-hit shutout against the Bruins.
Junior lefty Max Engelbrekt was the team’s most reliable reliever, posting a 2.92 ERA in 37 innings with 11 saves.
Through all the injuries, OSU remarkably led the Pac-12 in ERA (3.35) and batting average against (.232) in league games.
“Coach Yeskie dealt with a lot of things and the kids made a lot of adjustments,” Casey said. “This was by far the most injuries we’ve come across in any given year, maybe a two or three year period combined. We won 35 games and tied for third in our league and repeatedly had to make makeshift lineups. I can’t tell you how proud we are of our club.”
While OSU’s pitching came around late, its bats struggled for the majority of Pac-12 play.
The Beavers hit .330 against nonleague opponents and just .233 in league games.
Sophomores Michael Gretler and Christian Donahue finished as the team’s leading batters with matching .339 averages. Madrigal (.333) and Ice (.310) were the only other Beavers above .300.
“Our pitching wasn’t where we thought it would be early, limited by the injury bug, and when Pac-12 play started we were really having to press offensively, which we shouldn’t have done,” Ice said. “We had to score lots of runs to have a chance to win, and that’s not how baseball is meant to be played. So I think once one guy started to press and the next guy did, too, it just started accumulating.”
Harrison led the team in doubles (14), home runs (10) and RBIs (47). If Ice turns pro, Harrison said he expects to become OSU’s primary catcher next year.
The team set a new school record for triples with 32, breaking the 2006 mark of 31. OSU also set a new attendance record by averaging 2,937 fans per home game.
Eckert is the only Beaver not eligible to return. Redshirt sophomore Jack Anderson and the team’s 10 juniors could all be selected in next week’s draft.
With 14 freshmen and 10 sophomores on its 2016 roster, OSU will be loaded with experience – and talent – for the 2017 season.
The team will also have something to prove.
“No question the guys are motivated and are champions considering what happened,” Casey said. “Right now is a time to appreciate some of the things they did do well, and I hope they are able to do that.”