The Oregon State freshman right-hander who pitched a championship-clinching gem chucked his glove in the air and tossed his hat. Then his 216-pound catcher wrapped him up and guided him to the turf.
It was the moment that Kevin Abel, and the rest of the Beavers, had been envisioning since they bounced their way to the locker room one day earlier.
They were going to win the College World Series. They knew it as soon as they completed that ninth-inning rally Wednesday, stunning their opponent with gutsy heroics. They returned to TD Ameritrade Park with a purpose Thursday: Finish the job.
Arkansas never stood a chance.
Abel played the signature role in Oregon State’s 5-0 victory. He pitched all nine innings, surrendered two hits and finished with 10 strikeouts. But his teammates helped complement his brilliance, battling at the plate and gobbling up grounders behind him.
The Beavers (55-12-1) were in control from start to finish Thursday. And that was the goal.
“I think just having that momentum (from Wednesday), I think our team kind of felt that,” said sophomore catcher Adley Rutschman, the CWS most valuable player. “And coming into (Thursday), scoring early, I think you saw that, just that desire, that will to win from that first inning.
“And it just stayed steady throughout the game.”
Largely because of Abel.
He appeared in Wednesday’s 5-3 comeback victory, too. He struck out the side in the eighth inning on 20 pitches. Immediately after, the Beavers tied the game with two outs in the ninth. They went ahead on a two-run homer.
They never looked back. Abel made sure of that.
He spotted his fastball often enough to keep Arkansas’ dangerous lineup from finding a rhythm Thursday. He challenged the Razorbacks on the inner half of the plate especially. His change-up probably made the biggest difference, though: OSU’s staff threw more off-speed pitches than the Razorbacks were used to seeing, coach Dave Van Horn said.
“My job was to go as far as I could,” Abel said. “To go out there and make pitches and get as many outs as I could and hand it over to the next guy.”
No one else was needed.
Abel retired the final 20 batters he faced. He never used more than 15 pitches to complete an inning after the third. He faced only two three-ball counts in the final six frames.
He did it against an Arkansas team that had not been shut out since April 9, 2017. Only two teams in the country hit more home runs than the Razorbacks. But they couldn’t get the ball out of the infield Thursday; the last nine outs were either groundouts or strikeouts.
“You couldn’t predict what he was going to do,” second baseman Carson Shaddy said of Abel. “He was just on.”
The Razorbacks (48-21) weren’t.
They tried to extinguish the lingering agony from Wednesday’s defeat. But they were one strike away from celebrating a national title. Had one of three players caught a ninth-inning foul popup, they would have won their first crown.
Instead, they had to return to the ballpark for Game 3. And they weren’t the same.
Oregon State wasn’t either.
That foul ball dropped and junior Trevor Larnach’s first thought matched the mentality of his teammates.
“We’re not done.”
The Beavers proved it Thursday.
Abel capped a breakout showing in Omaha by throwing the first shutout at this event in two years. He’s the first pitcher to record four wins in the same CWS.
His 129th pitch Thursday was the called third strike that secured the program’s third title. That’s when Rutschmann, who also set the single-series hits record (17), tackled Abel to the ground.
Coach Pat Casey watched it all with the same gratification his players felt. They were down to their final strike 24 hours earlier to that dogpile, which formed just behind the mound Thursday.
Yet they always knew they’d be there.
“I just believed in our club,” Casey said.
Play of the game: Down 2-0 right out of the gate, Arkansas loaded the bases for RBI leader Heston Kjerstad with one out in the top of the third. But Oregon State starter Kevin Abel struck out the No. 3 hitter on a 2-2 pitch. It was the first of 20 consecutive outs he recorded.
Star of the game: Adley Rutschman broke the Oregon State single-season and CWS records for total hits with his three-hit performance Thursday. All three of his singles factored in the scoring. He drove in runs with the first two before singling and scoring another run in the fifth.
Close play: Though he wasn’t credited for a hit on his grounder, Michael Gretler hustled to first as Trevor Larnach scored to give Oregon State a 2-0 lead in the first inning. Third baseman Casey Martin charged the ball and made an off-balance throw to first that pulled Jared Gates off the bag.
Key decision: Abel earned the win in Wednesday’s come-from-behind victory with a 23-pitch relief appearance. Coach Pat Casey elected to start the freshman in Thursday’s finale anyway, and Abel proved to be more than able. His two-hit gem was one of the best performances in a CWS final.
Quirky moment: Not often does the director of video and scouting grab the spotlight during an NCAA championship. But Zach Barr of Arkansas, in his first season, did when he was ejected from the game by home plate umpire Joe Burleson in the bottom of the third for arguing balls and strikes.
Our take: Oregon State capitalized on the momentum from its comeback Wednesday by taking an early lead in Thursday’s finale. Abel never allowed the Razorbacks, and their large crowd, to get into the game as OSU claimed its third national championship.