CORVALLIS, Ore. — It all unraveled in the sixth inning. Until then, UNLV stuck with the nation’s top-seeded baseball team, threatening to end Oregon State’s season in front of a nervous crowd at packed Goss Stadium.
Instead, the sixth turned into the beginning of the end for UNLV, and the Rebels were the ones whose season ended abruptly.
Oregon State sent 10 batters to the plate in the inning, scoring five runs (all unearned) to take control and defeat the Rebels 6-1 on Sunday.
Though not the kind of ending they preferred, the second-seeded Rebels (36-25) at least got a victory in the regional the previous day to last longer than some higher-profile teams at other sites. They also can build on making their first postseason appearance since 2005.
“A number of teams … went 0-2 around the country, and we weren’t one of them,” UNLV coach Tim Chambers said. “I’m proud of our guys.”
After ousting UNLV, Oregon State (45-13) rode a two-hitter by Scott Schultz to a 4-0 win over No. 3 seed UC Irvine on Sunday night, forcing a winner-take-all game against the Anteaters (37-23) tonight for a berth in the super regional.
As for the Rebels, they had to win twice Sunday and again tonight to reach the next round, a difficult task under the best of circumstances and a nearly impossible one for a team hit by injuries like a sledgehammer.
A depleted lineup was largely why UNLV produced a .144 batting average in three regional games and went 1-for-22 with runners in scoring position. That one RBI was a single by Patrick Armstrong for the only UNLV run Sunday.
“Last night, we were saying that we were saving all the hits for today, but that wasn’t the case,” Armstrong said. “We were cold, and unfortunately, it’s the end of the year.”
Even a hot-hitting UNLV team might have had trouble against Oregon State left-hander Ben Wetzler (12-1), who entered with the nation’s lowest ERA at 0.76. After throwing a complete-game four-hitter and striking out 10 Rebels, that figure actually rose to 0.80.
Wetzler was in trouble just once, in the bottom of the sixth when UNLV loaded the bases on two walks and an error. In addition to Armstrong’s run-scoring hit, Morgan Stotts nearly hit a grand slam that was just foul down the left-field line, and then struck out on what appeared to be a foul tip to the ground that umpires debated but didn’t overrule.
Finally, Edgar Montes hit a sharp grounder the Beavers turned into an inning-ending double play.
“That was the ballgame right there,” Chambers said.
Rebels right-hander Kenny Oakley (4-8) pitched shutout ball through five innings to match Wetzler. But he also threw 88 pitches by the time the sixth began.
“I feel that every game I could throw 250 pitches,” Oakley said. “I don’t notice my body getting tired or any of that. The day after, maybe I will feel a little sore, but in the heat of the game, I don’t feel anything.”
He certainly began the inning strong by recording a strikeout, but then faced Pac-12 Conference Player of the Year Michael Conforto, who struggled down the stretch and was 0-for-9 in the regional until this at-bat. Conforto singled to right field, and as the crowd of 3,372 loudly cheered, he stood on first base and pumped his arms in obvious relief.
“I felt like he was walking around feeling like if he didn’t get a hit, we weren’t going anywhere,” Beavers coach Pat Casey said. “I think that weighs on a kid. The thing that people don’t understand is that these kids aren’t thinking about the draft. I mean he’s going to be a first-rounder, so it’s not that at all as much as it is the pressure of letting his teammates down.”
Conforto’s hit gave his teammates a lift, though not without UNLV’s help. Dylan Davis followed Conforto by reaching on third baseman T.J. White’s throwing error, putting runners at second and third. Those at-bats opened the way for Oregon State to score five runs and all but put the 2014 season in the books for UNLV.
“When Conforto got the hit,” Chambers said, “it woke the offense up.”
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.