Oregon State completes its dream run from Pac-10 doormat to conference champ toCollege World Series winner
When Mitch Canhamwas in first grade, he had nightmares that filled the dark with wolves, dragonsand bogeymen. He told his mother, who rummaged through the experiences of herown youth for help. She handed him a dream catcher-a Native American totem madeof a hoop and string-and hung it in front of his bedroom window. "Now, whenyou sleep, your dreams will have to pass through this," said his mother,Kim, who would die of a drug overdose in 2003. "The good dreams will getthrough, but the bad ones will get tangled up and go away."
Fifteen yearslater Canham is a redshirt sophomore and Oregon State's dream catcher, hitting.299 with 54 RBIs in 64 games. He caught a trio of dream pitchers from theBeaver State in a dream season that ended on Monday night in Omaha when histeam beat North Carolina 3-2 in the clincher of the College World Series.
Oregon State(50-16) seized its first NCAA baseball title after dropping the opener of thebest-of-three championship series, then overcoming a 5-0 deficit in Game 2.Before last week the Beavers had never won a CWS game, going 0-2 last year andin 1952, their only other appearances. Until recently the team, coached by PatCasey, had been a perennial Pac-10 doormat. "Coach recruited me by sayinghe thought we would win a Pac-10 title," recalled sophomore shortstopDarwin Barney. "I thought he was full of crap." Barney signed on anywayand was the conference freshman of the year as Oregon State won the leaguetitle for the first time in 53 years, then repeated this spring.
The program beganits turnaround when Casey signed high school pitchers Dallas Buck, KevinGunderson and Jonah Nickerson, all Oregon natives, in '04. Last Saturday in theseries opener, Buck, now an All-America (12-3, 3.44 ERA), was matched againstAll-World Andrew Miller (13-2, 2.36), one of two UNC starters who had beenfirst-round picks in the draft two weeks earlier. Miller's 97-mph fastball wasvirtually unseeable, never mind unhittable, until the sixth inning, when he wasknocked out of the game by a two-run homer by junior leftfielder ColeGillespie.
With the scoretied at three in the eighth, Tar Heels first baseman Chad Flack tripled andscored the deciding run on a passed ball that glanced off Canham's shin guardand rolled to the backstop. Asked later to describe the play, Canham, who went9 for 27 in Omaha, grumbled, "Got passed. He scored. They win."
North Carolinajumped to a 5-0 lead on Sunday, but in the bottom of the fourth inning TarHeels righthander Robert Woodard plunked leadoff hitter Tyler Graham."After that," Woodard said, "I don't even recall whathappened." To refresh Woodard's memory, he surrendered a single, issued awalk and gave up a two-run double that earned him an early shower. Hisreplacement, Matt Danford, may never forget what followed: a single, a wildpitch, a walk and then a three-run homer by senior first baseman Bill Rowe. Atthe end of the inning the Beavers led 7-5; at the end of the game, 11-7.
Monday's finalewas an exhilarating chess match of countermove and counter-countermove, withNickerson, Buck and Gunderson all taking the ball and North Carolina evenattempting a steal of home. The Beavers gnawed out a victory by taking an early2-0 lead, then scoring the winning run on a throwing error with two out in theeighth inning. "My mom's watching over me," Canham exulted afterward."This is obviously a dream."
In addition to Oregon State catcher Mitch Canham (41stround), the St. Louis Cardinals had five other draft picks in Omaha, the mostof any big league team. Here's how their prospects fared in the College WorldSeries.
Chris Perez (right), RHP, Miami, 1st round
Closer struck out five in two appearances
Jon Jay, OF, Miami, 2nd round
Speedy centerfielder went 3 for 13 with four RBIs and scored twice in threegames
Eddie Degerman, RHP, Rice, 4th round
In two starts gave up only four hits and struck out 14 in 11 innings, but alsowalked 11
John Goodman, RHP, Georgia Tech, 45th round
Reliever did not see action in his team's two CWS games, both losses
Robert Woodard, RHP, North Carolina, 46th round
Three-hit Clemson 2-0, but blew 5-0 lead in Game 2 of championship series
RICHARD C. LEWIS/WIREIMAGE.COM (PEREZ)
EAGER BEAVERS Tyler Graham scored Oregon State's first run on Monday evening, and Gunderson (inset) led the cheers after the win.
ROBERT J. MEYER
[See Above Caption]