OMAHA, Neb. — The popular narrative has been that Oregon State's run to the national championship was fueled by the Beavers' desire to redeem themselves for fizzling out in last year's College World Series.
Coach Pat Casey doesn't dispute that. But he says there is more to it.
"I think the fuel started these guys' freshman year in '16 when we weren't in the tournament," Casey said. "I sat there and looked at those guys and I said: 'There's only one way to respond to that, man. We make a decision.' Those guys were committed to that. We came back last year and had the greatest season ever. Came here, played a really good LSU club and didn't get it done. That didn't keep us from saying let's do it again."
The 2016 team went 35-19 and was one of the first teams left out of the NCAA Tournament. It included 2018 first-round draft picks Nick Madrigal, Trevor Larnach and Cadyn Grenier, and three other players who were taken in the first 10 rounds.
The 2017 team turned in one of the best seasons in college baseball history. The Beavers came to Omaha 54-4 and as the No. 1 national seed. They won two games here and then, with its offense having gone dormant, lost twice to LSU.
This year's club was more resilient than dominant.
Madrigal, the No. 4 overall pick by the Chicago White Sox, missed 26 games with a wrist injury. The Beavers lost back-to-back midseason series at Utah, which finished last in the Pac-12, and at sixth-place Arizona.
As the postseason neared, national attention was focused on Luke Heimlich, the star pitcher whose guilty plea to molesting a young relative when he was 15 was revisited in profiles by Sports Illustrated and the New York Times. Heimlich, who mostly struggled in three CWS appearances, denied wrongdoing in interviews with both publications, saying he pleaded guilty to spare his family the ordeal of a trial.
On the field, the Beavers swept through their regional and super regional before losing their CWS opener. They then won four straight elimination games to reach the best-of-three finals against Arkansas.
In Game 2, they were the beneficiary of a colossal bad break for Arkansas as a foul ball dropped between three fielders with two outs in the ninth inning. Had the Razorbacks caught that ball, they would have won their first national championship.
"Once that ball dropped, I said to myself: 'We're not done,'" Larnach said.
After being down to their last strike, Grenier delivered the tying single and Larnach hit the winning two-run homer to even the series. Freshman Kevin Abel then took the mound Thursday night and earned a record fourth CWS win by pitching a two-hitter and retiring the last 20 batters he faced in a 5-0 win that locked up the national championship and 55-12-1 season.
"It all starts with coach Casey and his staff," Larnach said. "As soon as we got on campus, they really enforce the mentality that you need to win a national championship. They enforce it every single day. When we went through adversity, injuries, losses, just kept saying the same thing. We kept developing. We kept getting better. We kept winning. We finally finished the job."
Another deep postseason run is possible in 2019.
"There are some really good players that didn't get to play much this year because we had a class that was older juniors," Casey said.
Oregon State expects to return everyday starters in CWS Most Outstanding Player Adley Rutschman at catcher, infielder-designated hitter Tyler Malone, first baseman Zak Taylor and outfielder Preston Jones. Among pitchers expected to come back are starters Abel and Bryce Fehmel and relievers Christian Chamberlain and Brandon Eisert and closer Jake Mulholland.
"Christian Chamberlain showed you he was 92, 95 the other night in the World Series. He doesn't even know what he's doing yet. This guy's going to be electric someday," Casey said. "Fehmel didn't have a good World Series, but he won a lot of games at Oregon State in three years. Preston Jones is going to be a good player. Kevin Abel is a Friday night guy, no question about it. Got a chance to be a first-round guy."