OMAHA, Neb. >> Oregon State, which can make a case for ranking among the greatest college baseball teams of all time, will have to take the next step toward its third national title since 2006 without two key players.
Luke Heimlich, Oregon State’s top pitcher, and starting left fielder Christian Donahue, an ‘Iolani alum, will be out of the tournament.
Heimlich did not pitch in super regionals after it was revealed last week that when he was a teenager he pleaded guilty to molesting a 6-year-old girl. He did not accompany the team to Omaha because he didn’t want to be a distraction.
Coach Pat Casey announced today that Donahue, a junior, was suspended for the entire CWS for an unspecified violation of team rules.
Donahue, an infielder/outfielder who played mostly left field, started 40 games for the Beavers this season and is batting .258 with 18 RBIs in 44 games (40 starts). He batted 3-for-7 and scored twice as Oregon State swept Vanderbilt in the Corvallis Super Regional.
Donahue was a first-team all-Pac-12 selection in 2016 after hitting .339.
At 54-4, the Beavers have the fewest losses of any team entering the CWS since Texas came in 57-4 in 1982. They take a 21-game winning streak into their game against Cal State Fullerton (39-22) Saturday afternoon. Florida State (45-21) plays LSU (48-17) at night.
Oregon State won the Pac-12 by six games, the largest margin since the conference ended divisional play in 1999, and outscored three regional opponents 27-3 as the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Beavers then cruised to a two-game sweep of Vanderbilt in super regionals.
Now comes the hard part — finishing the job on the college game’s grandest stage at TD Ameritrade Park.
“It is absolutely a lot of pressure, and it’s a different kind of pressure than any other experience along the way,” said retired Hall of Fame coach Augie Garrido, who won three national championships at Fullerton and two at Texas. “They’re going to have to adapt to the environment, and that is a huge challenge for all teams.”
The Beavers have a pitching staff that ranks No. 1 in the country with a 1.80 ERA. Jake Thompson is 14-0, Pac-12 player of the year Nick Madrigal is batting a team-leading .383, and catcher KJ Harrison, a Punahou alum who was drafted in the third round, has hit three of his eight home runs in the last five games.
“If they win it all, it’s going to be hard for them not to be considered No. 1 all-time,” Baseball America editor John Manuel said. “They had another national seed in their conference in Stanford. Arizona is in their league and was national runner-up last year. This wasn’t a vintage Pac-12 year, but it’s still a strong conference. They played good competition and blew everyone’s doors off.”
Garrido said the Beavers compare favorably to the dominant Southern California teams of the early 1970s, the Texas teams of the mid-1970s and early ’80s, and his ’95 Fullerton squad that went 57-9, won the national title and was named the greatest team of the 20th century by Baseball America.
As for that 1982 Texas team that came in 57-4, it didn’t win the national title.
Harrison said he had heard about the ’82 Texas team, and how it went 2-2 in Omaha and failed to reach the championship game. Based on that, he said, “greatest of all time” talk can wait for Oregon State.
“We’re not done yet,” he said. “Our goal is to win that national championship.”