Omaha, Neb. — Arkansas missed a chance to win the College World Series when a foul pop dropped between three infielders. Oregon State made the Razorbacks pay for it behind one of the best pitching performances in a title game.
Freshman Kevin Abel threw a two-hitter for his record fourth victory in the CWS, and Oregon State – a night after escaping on the ninth-inning, two-out foul ball fiasco, beat Arkansas 5-0 on Thursday night for its third title.
Abel was the fourth pitcher in the CWS’ 71-year history to throw a shutout in a title game, and the first to do it allowing so few hits.
“Kept making pitches, kept getting outs,” Abel said. “I felt better as the game went on and just rode it out. I was going to give it everything I had. I really appreciate they let me go out there. It was a lot of fun.”
He retired the last 20 batters, catching Luke Bonfield looking at strike three on a 3-2 pitch to end it.
Oregon State (55-12-1) capped a two-year run in which it won 111 of 130 games.
“As soon as the last play was made, I just got goose bumps,” Trevor Larnach said. “Came in and ran probably jumped the highest I’ve ever jumped. But that was a jump of joy. Last year left a salty taste in our mouth, and every single person on the team probably remembers that. Ever since then, we were out to finish the job. We sure did finish.”
On Wednesday, Arkansas failed to catch a two-out pop foul in the ninth inning that would have secured its first national title. The Beavers, down to their last strike, rallied to force the winner-take-all Game 3.
“There was probably still that ‘What if?’ and disappointment. It’s human nature,” Razorbacks coach Dave Van Horn said about the emotional hangover. “We had a good hitters’ meeting, we let them sleep in, pregame was good. Seemed like they were locked in. But we never got that hit. We never got anything going. Who’s to say? I don’t think we’ll ever know. If Abel hadn’t thrown so well, maybe it’s a little different story, but he didn’t give us a chance.”
Oregon State, which came from behind for three of its six CWS wins, was in control all the way in the winner-take-all Game 3. Arkansas (48-21) was shut out for the first time in 100 games.
Abel (8-1) ran into trouble in the third when Arkansas loaded the bases with one out. He struck out Heston Kjerstad and got Bonfield to fly out to end the inning, and the Razorbacks had no base runners the rest of the night. Abel struck out 10 and walked two in a 129-pitch outing.
Adley Rutschman, who set a CWS record with 17 hits, went 3 for 4 and drove in two runs. He was 17 for 30 (.567) with 13 RBIs in eight games and was named the CWS Most Outstanding Player. Rutschman singled his first three times at bat and drove in a run in the first against Isaiah Campbell (5-7) and another in the third for a 3-0 lead.
Abel had been used as a starter and reliever this season, and his versatility and durability were important for the depleted pitching staff.
“My goodness, that man. Unbelievable,” said Rutschman, the Beavers’ catcher. “Just the progression he made. No one would have thought that he’d do that coming in. He was getting pulled from starts. He comes out and throws a complete game in the most important game of the year. Pretty special to me. He’s going to do big things.”
Abel pitched an inning of relief to earn the win Wednesday. That was four days after he started and allowed three hits and a run in seven innings against Mississippi State. On June 18 he pitched four innings of one-hit, one-run relief against Washington.
Abel mixed a low-90s fastball with a changeup and picked his spots with his curveball. The only hits he allowed were Grant Koch’s double down the left-field line and Casey Martin’s swinging bunt, both in the third inning.
“You couldn’t predict what he was going to do,” Carson Shaddy said. “He had command of all three pitches. He pitched lights out. He was just on.”
The Beavers, also the winners in 2006 and 2007, were by far the most dominant team in the nation through the 2017 regular season and brought a 54-4 record to Omaha. But after winning their first two games here, they made a stunningly meek exit with two straight losses to LSU.
They brought back almost everybody in the everyday lineup along with ace Luke Heimlich.
Oregon State was the No. 3 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament and swept its regional and super regional to return to the CWS. In Omaha, the Beavers took a circuitous route to the championship. They lost their opening game and came from behind in two of the four elimination games they had to win to reach the finals.
“Having the season we had last year was phenomenal, but to come up short, there’s that missing piece at the end that you can never get back and you don’t know if you’re ever going to make it back to Omaha.
“To be able to come through the losers’ bracket, play eight games, and having everyone step up at the right time when we needed them to, it just makes everything so much better.”