Oregon State's confidence leading to dominance

OMAHA, Neb. &

Anybody wondering how hot Oregon State is as it heads to the College World Series finals should consider this: The Beavers haven't trailed in a game in more than two weeks.

The span includes 52 innings and parts of six games, dating to June 5, against Virginia &

a game the Beavers won 7-3. Oregon State hasn't lost since its second game in the NCAA tournament.

The team's confidence is at a high point after its run in Omaha, where the unseeded defending national champions have looked more well-rounded than any other team.

"It's so much easier to be successful if you know someone has your back," OSU coach Pat Casey said. "We wanted to get better. The players stayed with it, it's all about them."

The Beavers have allowed three runs or fewer in eight of 10 games this postseason.

They're also hitting .426 and driving in 12 of 22 runs with two outs.

"I wouldn't say it's unlikely, we knew we had potential," shortstop Darwin Barney said. "At this point in the season, we know a lot of things have to go our way."

The Beavers started the CWS by scoring a run in the first and second innings against Cal State-Fullerton, then cruising while Jorge Reyes threw six innings of one-run, three-hit ball.

In its second game, OSU pounded Arizona State in what Sun Devils coach Pat Murphy called the worst first six innings his team has ever experienced.

The Beavers then stomped out the spark of UC Irvine, a team that was trying to emulate Oregon State's run from last year.

"They're clicking right now and playing good baseball," Irvine coach Dave Serrano said. "They're going to be tough to beat. Honestly, I'm rooting for them and I hope that they do the West Coast proud this weekend."

Plotting the sequel

North Carolina and Rice were both trying to rewrite their CWS stories from last year, but only by changing the last few chapters. So far, North Carolina has kept the plot line the same.

Last year, Rice won its first two games against Georgia and Miami (Fla.). But the Owls were then outscored 13-1 in two games against Oregon State.

The Tar Heels gave Rice a similar ending this year, coming from the losers' bracket to outscore the Owls 13-5 in two games to move on.

North Carolina went to the title game last year and ended up losing to Oregon State.

making it back, the Tar Heels set up the first CWS title rematch since 1973, when Southern California and Arizona State met for the second straight year, in the middle of USC's five straight national championship.

Dragging dirt

Head groundsman Jesse Cuevas says only the most experienced among his crew can drag the infield in the fifth inning.

"The faster you do it, the faster they play &

the faster you can go home," Cuevas said. "That's not something you just put a first-year guy on."

But instead of having a team of three or four run from foul line to foul line dragging the infield behind them, one of the crewmen drives a three-wheeled cart, flooring on straightaways and making quick hairpin turns.

It looks something like a Zamboni outdoors, but without a speed limit.

"I figure God made machinery for some reason, so who am I to go against him?" Cuevas said.

Cuevas said it takes extra skill to drive the cart because the three-wheeled cart is old and turns extra tight. You have to go quickly while still doing a good job.

"If the drag is bouncing, you know you're going too fast," he said. "You gotta have kind of a little clock in your head, to know you have to make this time at this point."

Short hops

The players scoring North Carolina's first seven runs Thursday all reached base by walks or home runs. ... Rice has a CWS record of 10-11. ... Two more hit batsmen Thursday brought the CWS-record total to 47 through 13 games. ... North Carolina leads the nation with 57 wins, edging Rice by one. ... Danny Lehmann of Rice went hitless in four at-bats, ending a 10-game hitting streak. He reached on an error in the eighth.

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