Billy Buckner is a name that lives in infamy throughout the baseball world. Remembered for letting a ground ball pass right between his legs during the 1986 World Series, he cost the Boston Red Sox what would have been their first World Series Championship in 68 years. Instead, the New York Mets took advantage of the slip-up, winning their second title.
In game two of the College World Series on June 27, Arkansas found itself in a similar situation against Oregon State. Leading by a score of 3-2, an ordinary foul pop-up landed between three Razorback fielders with two outs in the ninth inning of a potentially series-clinching game. Given a second chance, Oregon State prevailed, winning the the final game 5-0 and earning its first title since 2007 and third overall.
The College World Series took place June 16-27 in Omaha, Nebraska, where 64 teams fought to achieve the ultimate goal of a championship. All 64 teams were initially organized into 16 groups of four teams, which were eventually narrowed down to compete in a double elimination bracket.
Arkansas went 5-1 to advance through the Fayetteville bracket, beating Oral Roberts, Southern Mississippi and Dallas Baptist, and winning two out of three against South Carolina. In the second double elimination bracket, Arkansas went 3-0 again, this time against stiffer competition in Texas — Texas Tech and No. 1 overall seed Florida.
Meanwhile, Oregon State dominated the Corvallis bracket, beating Northwestern State once, LSU twice and Minnesota twice. After losing the first game in the second double elimination bracket against UNC, LSU stormed back to win four straight games, defeating Washington, UNC and Mississippi State twice — punching a ticket to the title series.
Arkansas took the first game of the best-of-three series by a score of 4-1, scoring entirely from a four-run rally in the fifth inning to command a 1-0 series lead. Junior catcher Grant Koch led the way for Arkansas, going 2-for-3 with an RBI, a run scored and a walk. Junior pitcher Blaine Knight threw six innings, allowing one run on seven hits and a walk, while striking out six as he earned the win.
In the second game of the series, Arkansas took a 3-2 lead into the top of the ninth inning and with two outs came what will live on as the play that could have given the Razorbacks their first ever World Series Championship. Junior shortstop Cadyn Grenier came up with a game-tying RBI single as part of a 3-for-5 day. Immediately following Grenier, junior right fielder Trevor Larnach was the hero for Oregon State, as he delivered the go-ahead two-run home run to give Oregon a 5-3 lead.
Everything came down to the last game, as Oregon State was looking for its third title in 12 years while Arkansas was hoping for its first title in its ninth College World Series appearance. Game seven is typically known as the winner-takes-all game in sports — but in this case, it was game three.
With the 2018 College World Series Championship on the line, Oregon State struck first, scoring two runs in the bottom of the first inning. From that point on, Oregon State never looked back, winning the game 5-0. First-year pitcher Kevin Abel had a masterful performance, throwing a complete game shutout, while striking out 10 batters and allowing just two hits and two walks.
Abel became the first pitcher ever to throw a complete game shutout while allowing two hits or fewer in College World Series history — and also the first pitcher to win four games throughout the tournament.
“It feels amazing,” Abel said after the game, “I can’t thank this team enough, they fought through everything, they put up a ton of runs, they came back, it’s unbelievable what they’ve done. I’m gonna love this team for the rest of my life, they’re brothers to me.”
Cleanup hitter Adley Rutschman was named the 2018 College World Series Most Outstanding Player. Rutschman collected 13 RBIs and a record 17 hits to lead Oregon State, while also starting all the team’s games as catcher. Rutschman was named to the all-tournament team, along with teammates Abel, Grenier, Larnach and sophomore designated hitter Tyler Malone.
Despite defeat, five Arkansas players were also chosen for the all-tournament team. Knight, senior first baseman Jared Gates, first-year third basemen Casey Martin, sophomore outfielder Dominic Fletcher and first-year outfielder Heston Kjerstad were all recognized for their efforts.
It was quite a run for Oregon State, as the team won six straight games while facing potential elimination. Since the College World Series began in 1947, there have been only 10 other instances where a team came back to win the championship after losing the first game of its best-of-three series. This isn’t too unfamiliar for Oregon State though, as it accomplished the same feat back in 2006 after losing the first game to Miami 11-1.
With its third championship in the books, Oregon State — tied with Minnesota — sits in eighth place for most titles in the history of the College World Series. But over the last 13 years, no team has won as many championships as Oregon State, taking home titles in 2006, 2007 and 2018, setting the team up for continued success in the future.