Dramatic win vs BYU sends OSU Baseball into PAC-12 play with 10 straight wins

The Oregon State Beavers take the field against the BYU Cougars on a March 6 game at Goss Stadium. The Beavers would go onto win 4-3, grabbing their 10th consecutive win heading into PAC-12 play.

Jackson Smith, Sports Contributor

On Saturday, March 6, Oregon State Baseball completed a three-game sweep to close their out-of-conference schedule to send the Beavers into PAC-12 play, doing so in dramatic walk-off fashion against the BYU Cougars

Sophomore outfielder Jacob Melton led the heroics for the Beavers, delivering the final RBI to end the game in the bottom of the ninth inning. With the victory on Saturday, Oregon State has extended their win streak to ten straight.

In that sweep-clinching victory, the Beavers were forced to rely on their defense. Oregon State started the evening throwing, sophomore Jake Pfennigs for his third appearance of the season, while BYU started the afternoon with sophomore Jack Sterner on the mound. 

Both teams held each other scoreless through the first three innings. Pfennigs accumulated six strikeouts through 3.1 innings but allowed one earned run in the top of the fourth on a Cougar RBI double to center, the first points of the game.

The Beavers were able to answer the early deficit with sophomore second baseman Kyle Froemke’s one-out double off of the left-field wall that would score teammate Jake Dukart to tie the game at one. BYU then turned to the bullpen for the first time of the day, in which Melton was able to keep the momentum going with an RBI single up the middle, making the score 2-1.

Freshman right-hand pitcher Will Frisch, who was first out of the bullpen for the Beavers earlier in the fourth, pitched two quality relief innings in the fifth and the sixth, with no hits or runs allowed against ten batters in 2.2 innings. 

Beavers’ freshman reliever Jack Washburn, took the bump for the start of the seventh inning which would prove to be a crucial one for the Cougars. As BYU led off with a no-out single, then catcher Joshua Cowden hit a two-run blast deep to right, to gain them another lead at 3-2.

The Beavers once again found a way to get themselves back on the scoreboard and tie up the game. Froemke led off the inning with a four-pitch walk and freshman Justin Boyd was able to advance him into scoring position with a perfect bunt single. 

Senior outfielder Preston Jones followed up with another bunt that would advance both runners. Melton came through once again in a high-leverage situation with an RBI sacrifice fly to tie the game at three.  

Oregon State turned to the bullpen once again in the eighth handing the ball over to sophomore Bryant Salgado. The Cougars were able to get a pair of runners on first and second with two walks, putting the Beavers in a very crucial spot of the game with two outs. Salgado kept his cool, striking out BYU infielder Mitch McIntyre for the final out of the eighth inning to keep the game tied. 

The Beavers struggled to get the bats going in the bottom of the eighth, which set the series finale up for a dramatic finish. Senior left-hander Jake Mulholland was handed the ball to close out the ninth inning for Oregon State and set them up for a chance to win the ballgame. 

Mulholland, who has a track record for being a shutdown reliever with a career 2.35 ERA and 136 strikeouts at Oregon State, controlled the Cougars’ offense in the final inning. On 12 pitches, Mulholland retired the first two Cougar batters on strikeouts, then earned the final out on a foul out to the first base.

The stage was set for the Beavers. Tied at 3-3 in the bottom of the ninth, with a chance for the series sweep and to extend their win streak to ten straight before heading into PAC-12 play, one run was all it would take for Oregon State.

Once again, Froemke made his way to first on a full-count walk to lead off the inning. Sophomore Wade Meckler then was put in to pinch hit for junior Kyle McMahan. Meckler put down a sacrifice bunt to advance Froemke onto second base. Preston Jones then came up to the plate and made his way onto first base on a check-swing infield single, setting Melton up for a big moment once again.

Melton didn’t disappoint, nailing a line-drive single into left field that would score Froemke and walk the Beavers off for their tenth straight. Melton drove in three of the Beavers four runs and improved his batting average to a team-high of .435. His final RBI coming on the exact pitch he wanted to see.

“Ended up getting a fastball up and took advantage of it,” Melton said.

While Melton played humble over his individual accomplishments, Beavers’ Head Coach Mitch Canham was quick to sing the praises of his sophomore outfielder.

“He’s definitely a guy that you got to find a way to fit into the lineup,” Canham said. 

The Beavers now head into PAC-12 play with a USA Today Coaches Poll ranking of 16th and a 10-1 overall record. The year has made for an impressive bounceback for a young program that only has three true seniors, came into the season unranked, and started the 2020 season 5-9 before it was canceled due to COVID-19.

Oregon State is one of three PAC-12 teams currently in the national top 25 along with the sixth-ranked UCLA Bruins and the Arizona Wildcats, who sit right behind the Beavers at #17.

With those two ranked foes waiting in the conference, PAC-12 play could prove to be a more rigorous test than Oregon State’s first 11 games, having not faced a currently-ranked team during that stretch. But the Beavers will look to stay hot starting off with their first conference series against the Oregon Ducks starting on Friday, March 12. 

Heading into that rivalry game, this young Beavers team will look to build on what has been the strength of their team through 11 games, pitching and bullpen depth. Oregon State ranks first in the nation for team ERA at 1.64 with at least 75 innings pitched. Along with that, they rank third for team WHIP at .99 with at least 75 innings pitched. 

Canham credits a deep cast of pitching talent for the team’s early success.

“The nice thing is you get a handful of guys that throw on one given night, then the next night you have four or five guys that are hot and ready to go,” Canham said. “Those guys have created their identity in the bullpen, they trust each other, they push each other, and it makes for a winning environment.”

On offense, the Beavers have been relying on their small-ball offense and grinding through at-bats to put runs up on the scoreboard, allowing for lower-scoring games that have been decided by their starting rotation and bullpen to put opponents away on a game-by-game basis. 

And for Mulholland, that’s enough. Even if other teams they face along the way have more talent, the senior pitcher is optimistic about the trajectory of the 2021 Beavers’ baseball team.

“It may not be the most talented team, but we’ve got guys that will find a way. And that’s just as special in of itself,” Mulholland said.

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