SI Vault
 
Baseball
Franz Lidz
July 03, 2006
The Awakening Oregon State completes its dream run from Pac-10 doormat to conference champ to College World Series winner
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
July 03, 2006

Baseball

The Awakening Oregon State completes its dream run from Pac-10 doormat to conference champ to College World Series winner

View CoverRead All Articles

When Mitch Canham was in first grade, he had nightmares that filled the dark with wolves, dragons and bogeymen. He told his mother, who rummaged through the experiences of her own youth for help. She handed him a dream catcher-a Native American totem made of a hoop and string-and hung it in front of his bedroom window. "Now, when you sleep, your dreams will have to pass through this," said his mother, Kim, who would die of a drug overdose in 2003. "The good dreams will get through, but the bad ones will get tangled up and go away."

Fifteen years later Canham is a redshirt sophomore and Oregon State's dream catcher, hitting .299 with 54 RBIs in 64 games. He caught a trio of dream pitchers from the Beaver State in a dream season that ended on Monday night in Omaha when his team beat North Carolina 3-2 in the clincher of the College World Series.

Oregon State (50-16) seized its first NCAA baseball title after dropping the opener of the best-of-three championship series, then overcoming a 5-0 deficit in Game 2. Before last week the Beavers had never won a CWS game, going 0-2 last year and in 1952, their only other appearances. Until recently the team, coached by Pat Casey, had been a perennial Pac-10 doormat. "Coach recruited me by saying he thought we would win a Pac-10 title," recalled sophomore shortstop Darwin Barney. "I thought he was full of crap." Barney signed on anyway and was the conference freshman of the year as Oregon State won the league title for the first time in 53 years, then repeated this spring.

The program began its turnaround when Casey signed high school pitchers Dallas Buck, Kevin Gunderson and Jonah Nickerson, all Oregon natives, in '04. Last Saturday in the series opener, Buck, now an All-America (12-3, 3.44 ERA), was matched against All-World Andrew Miller (13-2, 2.36), one of two UNC starters who had been first-round picks in the draft two weeks earlier. Miller's 97-mph fastball was virtually unseeable, never mind unhittable, until the sixth inning, when he was knocked out of the game by a two-run homer by junior leftfielder Cole Gillespie.

With the score tied at three in the eighth, Tar Heels first baseman Chad Flack tripled and scored the deciding run on a passed ball that glanced off Canham's shin guard and rolled to the backstop. Asked later to describe the play, Canham, who went 9 for 27 in Omaha, grumbled, "Got passed. He scored. They win."

North Carolina jumped to a 5-0 lead on Sunday, but in the bottom of the fourth inning Tar Heels righthander Robert Woodard plunked leadoff hitter Tyler Graham. "After that," Woodard said, "I don't even recall what happened." To refresh Woodard's memory, he surrendered a single, issued a walk and gave up a two-run double that earned him an early shower. His replacement, Matt Danford, may never forget what followed: a single, a wild pitch, a walk and then a three-run homer by senior first baseman Bill Rowe. At the end of the inning the Beavers led 7-5; at the end of the game, 11-7.

Monday's finale was an exhilarating chess match of countermove and counter-countermove, with Nickerson, Buck and Gunderson all taking the ball and North Carolina even attempting a steal of home. The Beavers gnawed out a victory by taking an early 2-0 lead, then scoring the winning run on a throwing error with two out in the eighth inning. "My mom's watching over me," Canham exulted afterward. "This is obviously a dream."

1