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Walk-off fun: Oregon State Beavers beat Cal Bears with 9th-inning drama to earn 1st Pac-12 baseball series win
Walk-off fun: Oregon State Beavers beat Cal Bears with 9th-inning drama to earn 1st Pac-12 baseball series win
Walk-off fun: Oregon State Beavers beat Cal Bears with 9th-inning drama to earn 1st Pac-12 baseball series win

Published on: 03/27/2023


The week started with a simple plea to have a little fun.

It ended with one of the more enjoyable events in baseball: A walk-off win.

The struggling Oregon State Beavers escaped Goss Stadium with a much-needed 2-1 victory over the Cal Bears Sunday afternoon in Corvallis, scoring on a walk-off wild pitch in the bottom of the ninth to earn their first series win in Pac-12 play.

“We needed that one,” OSU second baseman Travis Bazzana said. “It was a step forward. But there’s a long way to go.”

A day after proclaiming they were “really close” to breaking out, there was no offensive eruption Sunday for the Beavers. The slumping offense produced just seven hits, scored just one earned run and left 13 runners on base. But in a virtual must-win game, during which it was desperate to avoid the cellar of the conference standings, Oregon State did just enough to win the rubber match of a three-game series.

Four OSU pitchers overwhelmed Cal’s anemic hitting — combining to record 10 strikeouts, surrender four hits and allow just a single fourth-inning run — and the Beavers’ offense managed to score what was necessary. Fittingly, the Beavers didn’t even need a hit in the final inning to earn the win.

The game-winning ninth opened with a leadoff walk from Bazzana, who fouled off a 3-1 pitch and laid off a close pitch on ball four, to polish off a clutch at-bat. Four pitches later, Mason Guerra hit a slow roller to third, which was scooped up cleanly by Dom Souto. But the Bears’ third baseman tossed a one-hooper to first, and the ball skipped away, sending Bazzana to third with no outs.

Freshman Gavin Turley, who this weekend finally started to emerge from his two-week slump, then came to the plate with a chance at redemption. He didn’t even need to swing the bat.

Cal reliever Robert Aivazian bounced his second pitch to the backstop and Bazzana raced home easily, touching off a wild celebration near home plate. After he scored, Bazzana heaved his helmet high in the sky and — after dodging the falling helmet — the Beavers mobbed Bazzana, bouncing up and down again and again.

It was a moment that looked, well, fun.

“It was awesome,” Turley said. “I knew the pitcher was already flustered, especially with me coming up to bat. I have a pretty good chance of putting the bat on the ball, especially in this situation. As soon as I saw (the ball) go by, I was like, ‘Heck yeah!. Let’s go!’”

The Beavers (15-9, 3-6) were on the verge of losing their first three series in conference play for the first time since 1999 and tumbling into sole possession of last place in the Pac-12. Instead, they claimed their first series victory since the first week of March and catapulted into a tie for eighth place in the conference.

Coach Mitch Canham dug into his bag of surprises earlier in the week, tricking his players into thinking they would be running four miles around campus during a grueling practice … and instead having them run less than a half mile to Memorial Union for a team bowling session. Afterward, the players organized a couple team gatherings at their off-campus houses. The moves were designed to stimulate a little fun for a team that entered Sunday with seven losses in the last 10 games.

The result was a midweek win over the Portland Pilots and a series win over Cal (10-10, 2-7).

No one suggested Sunday that everything was back to normal for a program with championship aspirations. After all, Oregon State remains three-games-under .500 in Pac-12 play and the offense remains in a funk.

But there are signs that better days are ahead.

“There’s some big smiles on their faces,” Canham said. “A walk-off provides a ton of energy. We’re going to have (Monday) off and then we’ll get a good workout in Tuesday before we head up to Seattle. Then we’ve just got to keep the momentum going.”

Of course, the fun did not come easily. And it did not come without a little tinkering.

Canham moved Garret Forrester from his traditional middle-of-the-order spot to the leadoff hole in the lineup, the first time he’s batted atop the order in his career. And, for the first time anyone around the program can remember, the Beavers started a trio of freshmen in the outfield, as Easton Talt, Dallas Macias and Turley offered a taste of the future. Also, right-hander AJ Lattery filled in for Sunday starter Jaren Hunter, who was sidelined with what Canham called “tightness.”

The new-look lineup produced a slew of scoring opportunities — the Beavers loaded the bases in four different innings — but could not generate a big hit. Oregon State scored its only other run when Mikey Kane drew a bases-loaded walk in the third inning. Kane finished 2 for 3, Bazzana went 2 for 3 with two walks and Turley had a base hit for the second consecutive game, offering another indication that his slump could be over.

All the while, the Beavers’ pitching was, yet again, exceptional against the worst offense in the Pac-12. The Bears’ lone run came on an RBI single by Souto in the fourth, and the back-end of the Beavers’ bullpen was especially dominant, as freshman left-hander Tyler Mejia and closer Ryan Brown had four strikeouts and allowed just one hit over four innings. Brown (2-0) earned the win by tossing a hitless final two innings.

Finally, for the first time in weeks, the Beavers found a little fun.

“It’s our turning point,” Turley said of Sunday’s win. “All the games that we’ve come up close, it’s just been a few pitches here and there. Everyone’s going to start really going, everyone’s starting to get that feeling, (the) energy’s coming along in the dugout, everyone’s coming together. I’m excited to see what the future holds.”

-- Joe Freeman reported from Corvallis.

[email protected] | 503-294-5183 | @BlazerFreeman | Subscribe to The Oregonian/OregonLive newsletters and podcasts for the latest news and top stories.

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