Oregon State to Play for National Baseball Title

June 22, 2006

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - The season was on the line for Oregon State last night, and Jonah Nickerson wanted the ball -- on only two days' rest.

Coach Pat Casey let him have it for a second start in four days, and Nickerson, a junior right-hander, led the Beavers to a 2-0 victory over Rice and into the championship round of the College World Series for the first time in the university's history.

'You just saw one of the guttiest performances by any person I've ever seen in the sport of baseball,' Casey said.

Nickerson (13-4) pitched seven and two-thirds shutout innings to set up a best-of-three series against North Carolina that starts Saturday night. The impressive outing came after he threw seven strong innings in a 5-3 victory over Georgia on Monday.

'You can't really prepare to pitch on two days' rest, but I took care of my arm and did everything I could,' Nickerson said. 'Everything since the beginning of the year I've done to keep my arm healthy and my body healthy has helped up to this point.'

Oregon State (48-15) advanced from the losers' bracket after falling to Miami on the tournament's first day. Neither the Beavers nor the Tar Heels have won the College World Series.

'Winning four straight games just shows the character of our club,' Casey said.

Nickerson allowed two hits, struck out nine and walked three. He was replaced by closer Kevin Gunderson after fanning pinch-hitter Adam Zornes. Nickerson walked off the mound and received a standing ovation from the crowd at Rosenblatt Stadium.

'He just came out there and was outstanding,' Casey said. 'And our guys scrapped to find a run here and there against the unbelievable pitching that Rice has.'

Gunderson struck out Tyler Henley, and pitched a perfect ninth for his 19th save, tying him with Don Czyz of Kansas for the national lead. After getting Josh Rodriguez to foul out to left to end the game, Gunderson pumped his fist and hopped on the mound as the Beavers charged out of the dugout.

Gunderson boldly predicted the Beavers would return to Omaha when they lost their only two games here last year. He was asked to offer his opinion on the teams' chances against North Carolina.

'No,' he said, drawing laughs. 'I'm keeping my mouth shut.'

Rice (57-13) was shut out by Oregon State for the second straight game after losing, 5-0, on Wednesday. Rice failed to score in 23 consecutive innings, a College World Series record.

'Our bats just went dead,' Rodriguez said.

The last team to throw consecutive shutouts at Omaha was Pepperdine in 1992, and the last to be shut out in two straight was Cal State Fullerton in 1982.

Oregon State scored all the runs it needed in the second when Bill Rowe hit a leadoff double down the first-base line and moved to third one out later on a wild pitch by Eddie Degerman (13-2). Mitch Canham's sacrifice fly to left made the score 1-0.

The Beavers knocked Degerman, a right-hander with an unorthodox overhand delivery, out of the game in the fifth with another run.

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