It was a quintessential good news, bad news kind of day for the Oregon State Beavers baseball team on Friday.
Kevin Abel made his long-awaited return from Tommy John surgery, pitching 4⅔ strong innings in the opener of the Sanderson Ford College Baseball Classic in Surprise, Arizona.
But his feel-good homecoming was spoiled by the Kansas State Wildcats, who used timely hitting and the dominance of left-hander Jordan Wicks to beat the Beavers 3-2 in the season opener for both teams.
Abel allowed just one earned run and one hit in his first start since March 2019. But he was upstaged by Wicks, a first-round Major League Baseball draft prospect who was virtually unhittable Friday at Surprise Stadium.
The preseason All-American surrendered just three hits and struck out 10 for Kansas State, baffling Beavers batters with a low-90s fastball and nasty changeup.
Wicks allowed just five balls out of the infield and grew stronger as the game went on, retiring 20 of the last 22 hitters he faced. When he struck out Justin Boyd to end the bottom of the seventh, Wicks celebrated with a fist pump as he strolled to the dugout, punctuating his final out.
The Beavers’ offense only threatened Wicks once, loading the bases in the bottom of the second inning with no outs after Troy Claunch and Kyler McMahan drew walks and Joe Casey followed with a bunt single. But Wicks effortlessly worked out of the jam, striking out Boyd and Wade Meckler before inducing an inning-ending groundout from Andy Armstrong.
Abel matched Wicks through four innings, striking out six of the first 16 batters he faced. But he ran into trouble in the top of the fifth, when he beaned No. 8 hitter Kamron Willman to lead off the inning. Caleb Littlejim followed with a sacrifice bunt to first, but Boyd misplayed the ball and, suddenly, the Wildcats had runners on first and second with no outs. Two batters later, things unraveled, as freshman Nick Goodwin lined a 1-2 pitch down the left field line to score two.
It was the first hit of Goodwin’s career — and the first hit allowed by Abel in the game. Abel responded by striking out Zach Kokoska for the second out, but was promptly pulled from the game.
Abel’s final line: 4⅔ innings, one hit, one earned run, two walks, seven strikeouts and 79 pitches.
But he also suffered the hard-luck loss, just the second of his college career. It was an unjust present on his 22nd birthday.
The Beavers’ offense finally came alive after Wicks left the game, as pinch-hitter Preston Jones hit a two-out triple to right center and, two pitches later, Ryan Ober crushed a two-run home run to left to trim the Wildcats’ lead to 3-2.
Claunch opened the ninth with a single to right, but the next three batters went down in order as the Beavers lost on opening day for the first time in 12 years.
Next up: Oregon State continues play in the Sanderson Ford College Baseball Classic on Saturday, when it faces New Mexico at 11 a.m. Left-hander Cooper Hjerpe is scheduled to start.