CORVALLIS, Ore. — Oregon State left fielder Michael Conforto might not be allowed in the state of Kansas for a long while.
The All-American may be the one single reason why the Kansas State Wildcats are not making a trip to Omaha, Neb. for the College World Series and his Beavers are.
Conforto’s throw from left field to gun down Blair DeBord at home plate in the bottom of the eighth inning preserved a 4-3 Oregon State lead and eventually the win by the same score.
Oregon State advances to the College World Series where it will open up with Mississippi State on Saturday.
The Wildcats will come home just one game and one run away from their first trip to Omaha in school history.
“For one of the few times, I’m speechless,” K-State coach Brad Hill said. “You have to give credit to Oregon State. Those pitchers really shut us down.”
The third pitcher to shut down the Wildcat offense came in the form of junior lefty Ben Wetzler. The usual Sunday starter, Wetzler is no ordinary Sunday starter and he showed K-State why.
The Clackamas, Ore., native won eight games this year and brought an earned run average of 2.11 to the mound. He garnered his ninth win Monday night by throwing 7 2/3 innings, giving up three runs on nine hits with five strikeouts and five walks.
Wetzler played with fire all night long, allowing the Wildcats to get on base, but preventing the big hit.
The big hit finally came in the eighth with K-State down 4-1. DeBord came up with runners on first and second and two outs. DeBord hit a double down the left field line that was just fair and scored both Jared King and Austin Fisher.
That spelled the end of the night for Wetzler and Beaver coach Pat Casey brought in another lefty. Not just any lefty, but ace Matt Boyd, who threw 123 pitches two nights earlier in Game 1 of the series.
“I wasn’t surprised they brought in Boyd,” Hill said. “A trip to Omaha is on the line. You have to go with your best and that’s what they did.”
At the time, Hill wasn’t concerned with what the other dugout was doing. He had a decision to make. His catcher was on second, representing the tying run. Hill was thinking about pinch-running for DeBord, who has typical catcher’s speed.
But he decided to stick with his junior signal caller, who unlike most college backstops, calls the game from behind the plate.
“I thought about it, but not for very long. Blair is the heart and soul of this team,” Hill said. “I just couldn’t take him out.”
RJ Santigate was up next and he delivered a blooper to left that was just out of the reach of a diving Conforto. But instead of bouncing away, the ball stayed in front of Conforto, who regained his balance, picked the ball up and threw a strike to home that arrive in plenty of time to tag out a sprinting DeBord.
“It was a wild play,” Conforto said. “Coach says to stay in the game no matter what is happening around you. The ball came off the bat low and I just missed it. Luckily the ball stayed right there and I just did my best to get a throw off and get the runner out.”
Despite the disappointing play that ended the inning, K-State had one more chance to tie or win the game in the ninth. K-State has showed resilience all year and even in this Super Regional when they were down to their last strike in Game 1 only to come back to win the game.
Boyd stayed in, looking for his first save of the season and the eighth of his career.
He walked Ross Kivett with one out, bringing up Tanner Witt. The Wildcat left fielder promptly put a scare into the 3,564 fans in attendance at Goss Stadium by hitting a fly to right. But a stiff breeze got a hold of it where Dylan Davis was waiting make the second out.
K-State had one last hope in Shane Conlon, its first baseman and the 21st round draft pick of the Kansas City Royals. With seven homers under his belt, including one in this Super Regional, the Wildcats were hoping for one more blast.
It didn’t happen.
Instead, Conlon hit a sky-high pop into foul territory that looked to be heading for the seats, but the wind, almost with a purpose, blew the ball back into the field of play and into Danny Hayes’ glove for the third out.
“I’m so proud with how we fought back and fought back,” Hill said. “Unfortunately, we came up a run short.”
K-State’s effort was felt on the other side of the line as well.
“They were the best team we have played all year,” Conforto said. “They never ever quit and fought us to the very end.”
It’s is the end of the 2013 Kansas State baseball season, one that saw the Wildcats go 45-19 and capture a Big XII title. This loss hurt, but according to Kivett, the team will realize what they accomplished this season.
“These were my brothers since Aug. 25,” he said. “They were the hardest working people I’ve ever been around and we never quit. It was a great ride.”