OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Freshman Kevin Abel threw a two-hitter for his record fourth victory in the College World Series, and Oregon State beat Arkansas 5-0 on Thursday night for the national championship.
Abel was nothing short of spectacular against an Arkansas team still reeling from the foul ball fiasco in the ninth inning Wednesday night that cost it the title and gave new life to the Beavers. He retired the last 20 Arkansas batters, catching Luke Bonfield looking at strike three on a 3-2 pitch to end the game.
“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.”
The title is Oregon State’s third, and first since it won the second of two straight in 2007, and came at the end of a two-year run in which the Beavers have won 111 of 130 games.
Oregon State (55-12-1), 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 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 Oregon State 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.
Oregon State’s title came a year later than many expected.
The Beavers 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. Finishing the job was their mantra.
“I know how much work these guys put in, 6 a.m. workouts starting in September,” Abel said. “This has been where we want to be. We wanted to finish. That’s what we wanted to do all year, and we did it.”
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. Facing elimination again in Game 2 of the finals, Arkansas failed to catch a two-out pop foul in the ninth inning that would have secured the Razorbacks’ first national title. The Beavers, down to their last strike, rallied to force the winner-take-all game on Thursday.
Other than Abel, no Oregon State starting pitcher made it past five innings. All-Pac 12 center fielder Steven Kwan has missed most of the CWS with a left hamstring injury.
Then there was the ongoing narrative about Heimlich, who remained on the team after it was revealed a year ago he pleaded guilty to molesting a young family member when he was 15. The two-time Pac 12 pitcher of the year was mostly a non-factor, taking two losses and getting no decision in three CWS starts.
“We’ve got a special group here that’s been able to come together,” Rutschman said. “We never thought we were going to lose. This is a special group.”