In the world of college baseball, there’s an inextricable link between Oregon State and North Carolina.
A pair of relative newcomers to the national scene, the programs faced off in back-to-back College World Series finals more than a decade ago. The Beavers won both series, clinching their first — and only — national titles in 2006-07.
Eleven years after the last showdown, No. 3 OSU (49-10-1) and the sixth-seeded Tar Heels (43-18) are set for another battle at the CWS. The old rivals will open the eight-team tournament this time around, meeting at noon Saturday at TD Ameritrade Park.
“I remember a lot of it,” said senior outfielder Jack Anderson, a Lake Oswego High graduate who grew up rooting for the Beavers. “That’s always something special for me being able to look back at those highlight videos, I watch those all the time. So being able to watch that and now going back to Omaha, we’ll hopefully make the most of it and make a cool little highlight video of our own.”
The Tar Heels are in the CWS for the seventh time under 20th-year head coach Mike Fox. All seven appearances have come in the last 13 seasons.
Fox, a UNC alumnus, is 883-373 overall at the school with two-regular season ACC championships (2013, 2018).
“(Fox) does a great job,” OSU coach Pat Casey said following the Corvallis Super Regional. “They always have an unbelievable amount of talent. … I have a ton of respect for Mike, a ton of respect for North Carolina baseball.”
OSU and UNC were the only teams to sweep their way through last week’s super regionals. The other six best-of-3 series went the distance.
The Beavers won a pair of games against Big Ten champion Minnesota (8-1, 6-3) while UNC eliminated Stetson (7-4, 7-5) of the Atlantic Sun Conference.
“They are a good club,” OSU pitching coach Nate Yeskie said of the Tar Heels. “They are active on the recruiting trail and they’ve brought in good players over the years. Everybody here won a regional and won a super, so you don’t really take anyone for granted.”
As of Wednesday afternoon, Fox had not named a starting pitcher for the CWS opener.
The Tar Heels are deciding between a pair right-handers in junior Cooper Criswell (6-2, 2.82 earned run average) and sophomore Luca Dalatri (2-2, 3.08). Dalatri missed most of the 2018 season with a stress fracture in his right arm but returned late last month.
OSU is expected to start two-time Pac-12 pitcher of the year Luke Heimlich (16-1, 2.32) on Saturday. Heimlich, a senior lefty, has a four-pitch mix and supreme command.
“We tell our guys the way you hit a good breaking ball is you hit his fastball first,” Fox told The Daily Tar Heel. “That may be our one and only game plan to get a fastball and try to hit it before you get that breaking ball.”
Added sophomore first baseman Michael Busch: “(Heimlich) is definitely one of the better pitchers we've faced all year, but I don't think it's anything we can't handle.”
UNC must navigate an OSU lineup that is hitting .320 with 59 home runs, one shy of matching the 1998 team’s 60 for the most in program history. The Beavers also have the best staff ERA (3.26) and team fielding percentage (.981) among the eight CWS participants.
But the Tar Heels don't need to win a series with mighty OSU; they just need to take Game 1 and figure the rest out later.
“We lost the first game last year in regionals, so we know exactly what it feels like,” Dalatri said. “And I can only imagine how much it sucks being behind 0-1 in a College World Series. We're going to do what we can to not lose to Oregon State."