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Lights go out on Beavers' season -- but what a season it was

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: KERRY EGGERS - Oregon State pitcher Scott Schultz sits and soaks in his final time at Goss Stadium as a Beaver after OSU's NCAA regional loss Monday night to Cal Irvine.CORVALLIS — The solitary figure sat cross-legged along the third-base line under the lights at Goss Stadium late Monday night, 45 minutes after the end to Oregon State's baseball season.

Pizza box beside him, senior pitcher Scott Schultz -- still wearing uniform No. 24 -- soaked in a final moment with the venue he called home for the past four years.

"Don't really want to go in and get dressed," Schultz said softly, eyes moist.

The Beavers' dream of reaching the College World Series ended with their 4-2 loss to Cal Irvine in the Corvallis Regional finals, a bitter blow to a team that entered the NCAA Tournament with the nation's No. 1 seed.

Schultz did his part, pitching a two-hit shutout in a Sunday victory over Cal Irvine that forced a final showdown for the right to play in next weekend's Super Regional. The 6-3, 205-pound right-hander, who spurned a pro offer after being chosen by Miami in the 17th round of last year's major league draft to return to Oregon State, will be taken again by another team in Friday's draft.

But Schultz's college career was over, and reflection was beginning to take place that a great part of his young life had passed by.

Then the silence of the night was interrupted.

"Hi Daddy!" shouted his three-year-old, Madison, brought down to the field by her mother and Scott's girlfriend, Allison. And soon father and daughter were running the baseline together, the young girl laughing, her father smiling.

Life goes on.

Cal Irvine moves to a best-of-three date at the Oklahoma State Super Regional. The Beavers pack up their bags and scatter to assorted destinations.

Schultz and fellow seniors Ben Wetzler, Kavin Keyes and Andy Peterson will be playing pro ball this summer. Juniors Michael Conforto, Dylan Davis and Jace Frye will be picked in the draft and almost surely have played their final college game, too.

Monday night was a bittersweet moment for coach Pat Casey, who in his 20 years has built Oregon State's program from a nice little regional outfit to a national powerhouse.

Listen to Cal Irvine coach Mike Gillespie, who began a relationship with Casey in 1994, when Gillespie was coaching the then-powerful Southern Cal Trojans. Gillespie was making his first visit to Corvallis since 2005, the first year Casey took his Beavers to Omaha.

"From the first time we ever hooked up, what jumped out at me about Pat Casey was not only was he an outstanding teacher and coach, but he was an intense competitor," Gillespie told the assembled media. "I still feel that way. I was here when the (Beavers') roll began, when things really got great. It's clear the people of this community and university recognize how sensational this program has become.

"This is a reflection of an elite and premier coach. This is a very difficult night for Pat and for them, but I'd be remiss if I failed to point out their top-drawer program. There is none better than this program is, for what they are and what they have done."

When it was Casey's turn to talk, he spoke from the heart, blaming himself for his team's failure to advance beyond the Regional.

"I'm proud of the effort our guys gave us all year long," Casey said. "It was outstanding. They played and acted with class.

"It's a tough day for us. I told them halfway through the year, if we didn't get to where I think we should get, that it would be my responsibility. … this was a team of workers. They had camaraderie. They were committed. I can't tell you how happy I am that I got an opportunity to coach these young men.

"It hurts, but losing a game is not a reflection of our program. I'd feel the same way about these guys if we had won the game. I feel horrible for them now because we lost. I detest losing. This game bothers me because we lost. I'm responsible for what happens in our program, not the players. They did a fantastic job."

Offense was Oregon State's Achilles' heel in the Regional. The Beavers scored 15 runs in their five games, 10 of them in Sunday elimination-game victories over Nevada-Las Vegas and Cal Irvine. Conforto, the two-time Pac-12 player of the year who will go high in the draft, was 2 for 16 in the tournament. Peterson, the gritty little second baseman, was 1 for 19. Timely hitting was a problem throughout the lineup.

"We were a little short on being able to score runs, and it caught up with us," Casey said. "Down the stretch, we didn't have enough offense to get it done."

The starting pitching was superb, with Wetzler, Schultz and Andrew Moore turning in masterpieces and freshman Jake Thompson -- who allowed four hits and three earned runs in 5 1/3 innings -- giving the Beavers a chance on Monday.

Casey's crew believed down to the last out against Cal Irvine that victory was in its grasp. And then it was over, a hush falling over the sellout crowd that had been roaring for the home team only seconds earlier.

The camaraderie was why Schultz, and many of his teammates, were reluctant to remove the uniform for a final time. They really were in it together as one.

"These guys have been my life the last three years," Conforto said. "It's just disappointing I can't be with them playing further this season. We were working toward being that last team standing. Every one of us laid it all out there. Sometimes in baseball, it just doesn't go in your favor."

Five of the eight national seeds failed to advance beyond the Regional. Such is parity across the country. There are plenty of good teams, and only one can be the last team standing. Now, it will be someone other than the Beavers.

Casey will have a major rebuilding job to do next season. There will be some talent to work with -- notably Moore, Thompson and a string of good young arms, plus center fielder Jeff Hendrix, first baseman Gabe Clark and terrific freshmen Logan Ice, Caleb Hamilton and Trever Morrison.

At some point soon, Casey will look back on one of the best regular seasons in program history -- a 45-14 record, a second straight Pac-12 championship, a No. 1 national ranking and the top seed going into the NCAA Tournament.

The work starts now toward putting together a group that one day will be enjoying the ultimate dogpile at Omaha, the pinnacle of college baseball. Casey, and the people around him, live for such a challenge. It's why Scott Schultz sat alone and lonely on the third-base line late Monday night, wishing it didn't have to end.

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Twitter: @kerryeggers