OMAHA, Neb. — An error on the first pitch of the College World Series initially seemed to be an aberration for the Oregon State Beavers. A slight mistake that was likely just some nerves on college baseball’s biggest stage.
What the play turned into, in retrospect, was more like an omen, though.
Early walks, errors and passed balls marred the Beavers' opening game at the College World Series against the North Carolina Tar Heels in the tournament’s opening game. A five-run third inning from the Tar Heels was facilitated by uncharacteristic Beaver defensive missteps and it was the difference as North Carolina took the opening game 8-6 on Saturday at TD Ameritrade Park.
“We certainly didn’t play our best baseball today,” Oregon State coach Pat Casey said. “We weren’t the better team, that’s for sure. They were. I know we can play much better. All the mistakes we made really hurt us. I thought we competed. We battled to stay in it. We just didn’t play our best game of baseball."
The Beavers will play in an elimination game at 11 a.m. Monday against Washington.
Oregon State (49-11-1) starter Luke Heimlich, who entered the game 16-1 on the season, never looked comfortable on the mound at TD Ameritrade Field and he didn’t last long against the North Carolina (44-18) bats.
The trouble started in the top of the second when a leadoff single turned into the Tar Heels first run, but it was the third inning that chased Heimlich from the game.
"It wasn't good," Heimlich said.
The inning featured two hit batsmen, five singles, a wild pitch and a passed ball as well as one of the Beavers’ three errors on the day. Heimlich was pulled after 2 1/3 innings, his shortest start of the season, after being charged with six runs on just four hits and his team trailing 6-1.
"I liked being in the third-base coaching box in the top of the third. Felt I was out there for a while," Fox said. "For me, the more you're out there, the better. I get it. It was a long game. But they're not long for me, and they're not long for the coaches and players. Sometimes it's agonizing for the people watching. We're not trying to drag it out by design."
The game lasted 4 hours, 24 minutes, the longest nine-inning game in College World Series history.
“North Carolina is a good team, Luke (Heimlich) is a very good pitcher. Today he didn’t have command of his stuff as he might like to,” Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman said.
“It’s unfortunate. Luke is a phenomenal guy, a phenomenal pitcher. He’s very competitive, so to not throw his best in Omaha probably kills him, but we know he’ll be back and better.”
The Beavers chipped away at the North Carolina lead but could never erase the deficit. They responded to the Tar Heels' five-run third with three runs in the bottom of the inning on a Trevor Larnach RBI double and a two-run single from Rutschman.
After the Tar Heels extend their lead to 8-4 in the top of the seventh, Oregon State again responded. Michael Gretler and Nobach both picked up RBIs in the inning, and the Beavers looked poised for their first lead since the first inning after loading the bases with two outs.
North Carolina reliever Cooper Criswell, the Tar Heels' sixth pitcher of the day, struck out Steven Kwan looking to end the threat, however.
Kwan was 3-for-3 with a walk on the day heading into the decisive at-bat.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.