CORVALLIS — A text message popped into Bryce Fehmel’s phone on Saturday from Oregon State pitching coach Nate Yeskie.
“Gray pinstripes?” the message said, referring to the Beavers’ uniform choice to be determined by that day’s starting pitcher.
It was the sophomore right-hander’s signal that he would make his first start since May 6 with a College World Series berth on the line. And he responded with the best outing of his career in the biggest game of the season for the No. 1 Beavers thus far, striking out a career-high 10 batters in a complete-game 9-2 NCAA super regional victory over Vanderbilt to help propel OSU back to Omaha for the first time since 2013.
“He was so good that I almost fell asleep,” Beavers coach Pat Casey said. “He was just fantastic … Wow, what a game to pitch in that situation against that club.”
Fehmel allowed five hits and two runs (one earned) over his nine innings and did not walk a batter as the Beavers (54-4) clinched their 21st win in a row. He frustrated Vanderbilt’s potent lineup by mixing in a heavy dose of breaking pitches, holding to the scouting report to keep those hitters off-balance. He never shook off a pitch during the outing, and struck out the final batter in six of those nine frames.
“I’ve been ready to be in that situation,” Fehmel said. “I was ready for the moment.”
Fehmel’s performance was reminiscent of his stretch run last season, which ended with Freshman All-American honors. But he never quite recaptured that form this season, even as OSU’s pitching staff morphed into the nation’s best. In his last three regular-season starts, he did not make it out of the fifth inning.
But OSU’s starting options changed Friday when ace Luke Heimlich indefinitely removed himself from playing after The Oregonian/OregonLive reported earlier this week that he had pleaded guilty to child molestation as a teenager. Jake Thompson started Friday’s 8-4 win. And Fehmel became the choice for Game 2, saving Drew Rasmussen to either close Saturday or start Sunday.
In the immediate aftermath, Casey could not quite put Fehmel’s outing into historical context beyond “well tonight, it ranks pretty good.” But the coach said Yeskie predicted about halfway through the game that Fehmel would go the distance. When Casey went out in the ninth inning to sub Preston Jones into centerfield, the coach cracked a smile when the umpire said “God, I hope you’re not taking that pitcher out.”
Then after Fehmel watched Steven Kwan corral the final out in left field, the pitcher was tackled by catcher Adley Rutschman. The rest of the Beavers followed.
What was it like to cap the best performance of his career at the bottom of a dogpile, celebrating a trip to Omaha?
“I didn’t feel anything,” Fehmel said. “It was all a blur.”