OMAHA, Neb. – The Washington Huskies waited the entire history of their baseball program to finally make the College World Series, and then on Monday they waited and waited some more, waited interminably, to see if they were going to stay more than two games.
It was the mother of all weather delays, 4 hours and 31 minutes confined to their locker room, and when it finally ended, a triumphant, groundbreaking Husky season crumbled in the eerie stillness of the Omaha night.
This was a schizophrenic game broken into two distinct parts, one a taut affair in which the Huskies had appeared to grab the momentum and took a one-run lead into the sixth inning. The second, after an apocalyptic darkness had settled over TD Ameritrade Park as a precursor to a classic Midwestern electrical storm, was an Oregon State rout, 10 runs scoring unanswered once play resumed.
The overall result was a 14-5 Washington loss to the Beavers that ended the Huskies’ stay in the College World Series at the barest minimum, two losses and a trip home. They are the first team eliminated here, having dropped their opener 1-0 to Mississippi State on a walkoff hit in the bottom of the ninth.
But this Huskies season has been so much more than that. It deserves to be remembered for their midseason turnaround from an 18-18 start, and for the long-awaited breakthrough to the school’s first CWS appearance.
That it ended so quickly resonated with Oregon State coach Pat Casey, who thought back to the Beavers’ initial Omaha voyage, which also ended in two-and-out fashion in 2005. As his players sat dejected in the dugout at old Rosenblatt Stadium – much as the Huskies did Monday long after the final out had been registered, more than eight hours after it began – Casey recalled trying to buoy them with all they had accomplished.
“The guys are hanging their head, and I’m saying ‘Guys, this is crazy. You’re in the College World Series. It’s a monumental task to get here,’ ” Casey said.
“I’ll tell you what, if you watched Washington in the middle of the season, you wouldn’t have thought they would be here. Had to win a regional clear across the country. Went back, won the (Super Regional).
“I know those guys are going to, in a day or two, really feel like this is not only a great time for us, but also a great motivator for what we can do in the future.”
The Beavers, of course, came back to win the national title the next two years and have become a staple in the CWS. That’s the same goal Huskies coach Lindsay Meggs harbors, and he, too, tried to convince his players that the ending Monday doesn’t negate the accomplishment of the recent past nor dull what he hopes is an even better future.
“Getting here is a breakthrough for us,” Meggs said. “It’s a significant step toward where we want to be. We want to be an ‘Omaha program.’ We want people to think of us as somebody who belongs here.
“I think this is a huge step for us. When I took this job, there were people that told me we would never get to this point because of the academic challenges we have, because of the facility we started with.
“And again I’ll credit Oregon State because of the fact that they had done what they’ve done in the Northwest. It has proven that cold-weather schools, if you will, can make this happen if you have the support and the facilities, and we do. And the University of Washington is a great place to go to school. I think we’re going to continue to recruit great student-athletes, and I think we’re going to be back.”
This game turned so dramatically, so starkly, at break point of the rain delay that it was natural to think that one side had handled it differently. But, no, both teams responded with the goofiness and fun you’d expect of college kids.
Most of Oregon State’s players were embroiled in a role-playing game called “Mafia,” complete with sheriffs and doctors and fake murders, while outfielder Joe Casey, the coach’s son, succeeded in a challenge to stuff 30 pieces of bubble gum in his mouth, much to everyone’s amusement.
The Huskies, meanwhile, played Hangman and other games to keep the mood loose.
“We actually had a blast in the locker room,” shortstop Levi Jordan said. “That sort of puts our season into a nutshell right there with how much we enjoyed being with each other.”
But when the game restarted, “We came out flat, I guess you could say, and Oregon State came out firing on all cylinders,” Jordan said.
To Meggs, there were practical issues that explained it, such as the fact that the Husky relievers got stacked up, partly through ineffectiveness and partly because of the delay, “and suddenly we were chasing innings, with some arms that probably weren’t ready for a moment like this.”
But mainly, he felt, it might have been simply a matter of the grind catching up to them – the frantic scramble to even make the NCAA field by nearly sweeping Stanford on the final weekend, and the road triumphs in both the regionals (at Coastal Carolina) and Super Regionals (at Cal State Fullerton).
“We endured the travel,” he said. “We grinded and we fought through the weather. You go to Fullerton and we’re still good with it. We’re fired up and we have energy, and we’re absolutely up to the challenge.
“We get here, and it’s the same mentality. But I think physically, it finally caught up to us. That’s part of what you saw tonight.”
The game had halted with Washington ahead 5-4, but Oregon State having loaded the bases with two outs. When it resumed, Washington reliever Alex Hardy walked in the tying run before getting out of the inning. But the game really got out of hand when Oregon State scored four in the seventh, the killer blow being a two-out, three-run homer by Kyle Nobach, and then five more in the eighth, four of those after two were out.
One of the benefits of this experience for the Huskies, besides savoring the fun and pageantry of the biggest stage, is they get to see both how close they are to the next step, the one Oregon State took – and what it will take to get there.
“We need more depth on the mound, that’s clear,” Meggs said.
“We showed that you’ve got to have fun while you’re playing baseball,” catcher Nick Kahle said. “When we got all our guys back, we really just enjoyed ourselves, and I think that’s what really got us going and carried us throughout the rest of the year.”
Now the Huskies hope to carry the same feeling, with a better finish, into next year and beyond.
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