Oregon State holds off Kansas State rally, advances to College World Series

For a fleeting moment, it looked to all be slipping away from Oregon State.

The Beavers had built a 4-0 lead in Monday's decisive super regional game against Kansas State, but the Wildcats were roaring back in the late innings. With the lead cut to one and the tying run at second base in the eighth, Kansas State third baseman RJ Santigate's soft liner dropped in for a hit in front of diving Oregon State left fielder Michael Conforto. Blair DeBord rounded third and barreled home with the tying run and loads of potential Wildcat momentum in hand.

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At that moment, Conforto and catcher Jake Rodriguez turned in a spectacular defensive save, one that possibly rescued Oregon State's season and certainly will be permanently etched in Beavers lore. Rodriguez, whose father had passed away one year to the day, stonewalled DeBord with a textbook block job of home plate while he speared Conforto's one-hop bullet out of mid-air. He applied the tag in time. The Goss Stadium crowd entered a frenzy that didn't die until Beavers ace Matt Boyd came back out to slam the door on the Wildcats in the ninth inning.

Oregon State 4, Kansas State 3. Final. The Beavers are headed back to Omaha for the first time since 2007, the year they won their second straight national title.

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The Big-12 champions pushed the Pac-12 victors to the brink in this Corvallis super regional, but Pat Casey's nation-best starting pitching staff was simply too good to lose this best-of-three series. Freshman Ben Wetzler dealt 7.2 innings of three-run ball Monday before he was relieved by -- fittingly -- another Oregon State stud starter to close it out. Boyd, the lefty ace who had thrown 123 pitches just two days earlier, battled through certain fatigue to send the feisty Wildcats home packing.

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The Beavers jumped out to an early lead again, this time behind first baseman Danny Hayes' two-run second inning blast. Oregon State added insurance in the fourth and fifth innings before Kansas State's high-powered offense made its spirited charge, a series of rallies that made another packed home crowd sweat until the very final pop-up to Hayes sealed the deal.

The Beavers dogpiled on the infield. They're headed back to college baseball's promised land. They'll join league mate UCLA in Omaha, where the Pac-12 will attempt to continue flexing its baseball muscles. So far, the conference has racked up a 15-5 record in postseason play while outscoring opponents 102-54 along the way. Both Oregon State and the Bruins have the elite pitching necessary to be considered legitimate title contenders at TD Ameritrade Park a year after fellow Pac-12 program Arizona won it all.

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The Beavers begin their journey at noon PT Saturday against Mississippi State, while UCLA starts with LSU at 5 p.m. PT Sunday.

David Lombardi has covered Pac-12 baseball since 2007. He’s a play-by-play voice and on-air reporter in the San Francisco Bay Area. He’s on Twitter @DavidMLombardi.

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