Beavers, Carolina set for a rematch

Published 10:57 pm Saturday, June 23, 2007

The message was simple. The task was much more difficult.

“Win two of three, or we’re going home,” Oregon State coach Pat Casey told his players on the eve of their final regular-season series at UCLA.

The Beavers won two of the three games — and they’re still playing a month later. The defending national champions have won 10 of their past 11 entering their College World Series finals rematch against North Carolina.

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Games 1 and was Saturday night and game two is set for today in the best-of-three series, with a third game Monday, if necessary. It’s the second time in the CWS’ 61-year history that the same teams have reached the finals in consecutive years. Arizona State and Southern California met in 1972 and 1973.

Casey said Friday he doubts the Beavers (47-18) would have made the 64-team national tournament if they had lost two or three against UCLA, the second-place team in the Pacific-10. The Beavers tied for sixth, but they impressed the selection committee with a 28-3 record against a strong nonconference schedule.

“We’ve battled through some hard times,” catcher Mitch Canham said. “We deserve to be right here right now.”

Oregon State won a regional at Virginia, took two from Michigan at home in super regionals and beat Cal State Fullerton, Arizona State and UC Irvine at the CWS.

North Carolina (57-14) swept through its regional and won a three-game super regional over South Carolina, both at home. The Tar Heels split their first two games in Omaha, then had to beat Louisville once and Rice twice to get back to the finals.

The Tar Heels’ performance in the face of elimination was reminiscent, though not as dramatic, as Oregon State’s run to the 2006 championship. The Beavers came back to win it all after losing 11-1 to Miami in the CWS opener.

North Carolina had to win three games in three days after a 14-4 loss to Rice.

Oregon State, meanwhile, played three games the first seven days of the CWS.

“I certainly enjoyed the days off,” Casey said. “You gotta do what you gotta do.”

North Carolina coach Mike Fox, whose team won its bracket in three games last year, said he doesn’t know how the longer path to the finals will affect his players.

“There is something to be said for playing every day,” he said. “Rest is important, as well. Just the fact we’re here is OK at this point.”

Two freshmen have drawn starts in the opener. North Carolina will send Alex White (6-6) against Jorge Reyes (6-3).

The Game 2 pitching matchup has the Tar Heels’ Luke Putkonen (8-1) against Mike Stutes (11-4).

White was the loser against Rice last Sunday, giving up five hits and six runs in 1 1-3 innings, his shortest start of the season.

Reyes allowed three hits and one run in six innings in Oregon State’s win over Fullerton last Saturday.

North Carolina overcame losses in two of three games at Florida State and a humbling 11-1 loss to rival North Carolina State to win its division in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Tar Heels won the conference tournament before starting its wild ride through the national tournament. They had to rally to win five of their first six games.

“We’re just a tough bunch,” Tar Heel reliever Andrew Carignan said. “We have all the confidence in the world in each other. We know how much of a challenge this is, but we’ve come together for it.”

So have the Beavers, who began making plans for another national championship run the day they left Omaha last year.

Veterans such as Canham, shortstop Darwin Barney and left fielder Mike Lissman have blended well with newcomers Reyes, designated hitter Jason Ogata and first baseman Jordan Lennerton.

“We lost a lot of guys, but the kind of work ethic we have over there in Corvallis is going to set us up for a chance to win and a chance to be back here,” Canham said. “There wasn’t a doubt in my mind, after we had our whole team set up at the first meeting, that we were going to be back here.”

Casey wasn’t so sure, especially after losing three straight to Arizona State at home the week before the UCLA series.

“It came down to those guys trusting what they could do in their defining moment,” Casey said. “They got a grasp of what we needed to do, and they figured out how to get it turned around. Since then I feel like they’ve got it done in a pretty good rhythm.”