CORVALLIS — Oregon State second baseman Nick Madrigal noticed a difference in Kevin Abel before the freshman took the mound on Sunday.
"I looked him in the eye and he was completely calm, that was something I hadn't seen in a while," Madrigal said after Abel threw eight shutout innings to lead the Beavers to a 12-0 baseball win over LSU that clinched the NCAA Corvallis Regional at Goss Stadium. "He looked like he was in the moment, like he wanted it. That was one of the best performances I have played behind. I've always known he could do that."
Abel allowed a bunt single in the third inning before retiring 15 Tigers in a row. He gave up a single in the eighth and one in the ninth before leaving to a standing ovation from the crowd of 3,915.
Abel gave Oregon State the third starter it was seeking behind all-Pac-12 pitchers Luke Heimlich and Bryce Fehmel. Abel was replaced as OSU's Sunday starter last week against UCLA before regaining that role and providing his longest outing of the season.
"A lot has changed mentally for sure," Abel said as he reflected upon his season. "Nothing has changed physically, I am not throwing any different and I don't look any different."
Abel then pointed to his head and said "it has all been up here".
OSU coach Pat Casey nodded in agreement.
"Mentally, he has worked hard to believe in himself," Casey said. "He has made some unbelievable adjustments as far as how he believes in himself."
The Beavers finished off an undefeated run through the regional by outscoring their three opponents 35-4, including back-to-back wins over LSU by a combined score of 26-1.
Third-seeded OSU will host No. 14 Minnesota in a best-of-three super regional next weekend to determine who advances to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb. The Gophers (44-13) defeated UCLA to win their regional and set up a trip to OSU (47-10-1)
LSU defeated Northwestern State 9-5 in an elimination game earlier Sunday, but with two injured starting pitchers, the Tigers turned to reliever Devin Fontenot to start their fourth game in three days.
OSU got three runs off Fontenot in the first beginning when Steven Kwan led off with a solo homer to right field.
Trevor Larnach walked with two outs before Adley Rutschman hit a single that bounced off first base. Michael Gretler followed with a single that drove in Larnach.
Kyle Nobach walked to load the bases before Jack Anderson was hit by a pitch to bring in a run that put Oregon State ahead 3-0.
"We knew they were up against it with arms, so we wanted to be aggressive when we had the chance but force them to get in deep pitch counts," Casey said.
Kwan reached base on an error to begin the second inning and Cadyn Grenier walked before Fontenot was relieved by John Kodros, who had pitched 8 2/3 innings all season. Madrigal bunted for a single before Larnach walked to bring in a run.
Nobach reached on a fielder's choice that scored Grenier to put Oregon State ahead 5-0. Grenier added a solo homer in the third inning to push the lead to 6-0.
The Beavers added two runs in the sixth after Madrigal singled and Larnach walked. Gretler walked to load the bases and Nobach hit a double that scored two before Gretler was thrown out at home on the play.
Anderson followed with a single that scored Nobach to push OSU ahead 9-0. Zak Taylor added a single that scored Anderson.
Gretler singled to lead off the eighth inning and scored on a double by Nobach to put OSU ahead 11-0. Kwan followed with a run-scoring single.
The offense made sure OSU did not need a spectacular pitching performance, but Abel provided one. The right-hander allowed just four of the 28 Tigers he faced to reach base while striking out eight.
"He was mixing pitches very well," LSU designated hitter Austin Bain said. "He had a plus change-up and plus breaking ball you had to respect. That got you off the fastball and he worked the fastball in and the curveball away. He was mixing pitches and locating well."