When it comes to college baseball, there's nothing bigger.
There's nothing brighter.
It's what everyone strives for.
It's the World Series.
And few get to play in it.
Few get to celebrate on the field at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb., site of the College Baseball World Series.
It's an honor.
And the Oregon State University baseball team earned that honor this past spring.
The Beavers got to celebrate on the field in Omaha, as they won two of their four games at the College World Series, reaching the final four in bracket play.
And, in the middle of that celebration were two former Sherwood High School stars. Adley Rutschman, a 2016 Sherwood High School graduate, and Zak Taylor, a 2015 Sherwood grad, were key players for the Oregon State squad, which turned in an astonishing 2017 season, which was capped off by the College World Series appearance.
"It was an unbelievable season," said Taylor, and Oregon State sophomore, who saw action at first base, catcher and designated hitter for the Beavers in their 2017 World Series season. "This is a great group of guys, and we got to Omaha. We never thought we'd do it this fast. It was so much fun. I'll never forget it."
"It was so much fun," said Rutschman, an OSU freshman, who started at catcher for the Beavers, and was one of the stars of the World Series. "Every guy excelled to get us there. We all had a passion for the game."
The Oregon State baseball squad put up some incredible numbers during the 2017 campaign. The Beavers went 56-6 overall on the season. They placed first in the Pacific-12 Conference standings with a 27-3 conference record. They had two 23-game winning streaks during the season and they had a sparkling 31-1 mark at their home field, Goss Stadium in Corvallis.
"Our record speaks for itself," Rutschman said. "It was really special. The team itself was so tightly bonded. We always felt like we'd win. Even when we were down, we never thought we'd lose."
"Honestly, we had talent, but we also loved one another," Taylor said. "Every guy had everyone's back. And we always believed we were the best team out there."
The 6-foot-2, 204-pound Taylor, after playing in just seven games for the Beavers in his freshman year, stepped up for the squad this past spring.
He played in 33 games, starting 15. He hit for a .233 batting average, with a pair of doubles, six runs scored and six RBIs.
He also was a Pac-12 All-Academic Honorable Mention pick for the 2017 season.
Rutschman (6-2, 208) had an immediate impact during his freshman season with the Beavers. He played in 61 games, starting 56. He hit for a .234 average, with seven doubles, a triple, two home runs, 38 runs scored and 33 RBIs. Rutschman also provided sparking defense behind the plate for the OSU squad.
"Adley played his butt off all year," Taylor said. "He's one of my best friends."
Rutschman was an All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention pick for the 2017 season.
Sure, going 49-4 in regular-season play is impressive. But the postseason is what really matters, and you certainly know that when you're a program with a tradition as deep as OSU's.
"This team has so much history, and a legacy," Rutschman said, pointing out the Beavers' College World Series championships in 2006 and 2007. "And I remember watching the 2013 World Series team. To get to Omaha was what we hoped for all season long."
The Beavers' postseason trek started in early June, when they hosted a four-team double-elimination regional tournament. Oregon State opened play at the regional event with an 8-2 win over Holy Cross. Rutschman went 2 for 4 at the plate in the victory, with a double, two runs scored and an RBI. Taylor also got into action in the win.
The Beavers then ran to an 11-0 win over Yale, with Rutschman going 2 for 4 with two runs scored and two RBIs. Taylor also saw play in that game. OSU then wrapped up the regional tourney title with an 8-1 win over Yale.
"We took care of business," Taylor said.
That put the Beavers in the Super Regionals, where they would host Vanderbilt in a best-of-three series, with the winner advancing to the World Series. Oregon State would need just two games.
The Beavers first downed Vanderbilt 8-4, and then, with a World Series berth to claim with a victory, they got a 9-2 win over Vanderbilt, with Rutschman going 2 for 4 with a pair of runs scored.
"The Super Regionals were so much fun," Taylor said. "After the game, we were trying to decide if we were going to do a dog pile, or not. We did, and then we walked around Goss Stadium to thank all of our fans. It was like 'oh wow, we're going to Omaha.'"
"Now, it was time to change our goals," Rutschman said.
On to Omaha
To get to play in the World Series was something special, but so was the experience of being part of the happenings in Omaha.
"There were a lot of fans there," Rutschman said. "And there were a lot of Oregon State fans. We played in the first game, and they had a fly-over before that game. That was so cool."
"Omaha was so much fun," Taylor said. "It's crazy how they take care of you there. You'd have people just come up to you, and tell you how happy they were for you. The atmosphere there was amazing. It was unreal to see so many people at the games. There were 20,000-plus. It had a Major League feel, with with a college atmosphere."
At the Series
Oregon State opened play at the eight-team World Series on June 17 with a first-round game against Cal-State Fullerton.
And things didn't get off to a promising start for the Beavers, as they trailed the Titans 5-1 going into the bottom of the sixth inning.
"We had some first-game jitters," Rutschman said.
But the Beavers rallied to scored a 6-5 victory, with Rutschman singling in Trevor Larnach with the game-winning run in the bottom of the eighth inning.
"We came back and won," Rutschman said. "(Sophomore pitcher) Drew (Rasmussen) closed it out. That paved the way."
Rutschman went 1 for 5 with the game-winning RBI in that game.
The Beavers followed that up with a 13-1 World Series win over Louisiana State University on June 19.
Rutschman scored a run in that game. Taylor also made his first World Series appearance in that game.
"I was told to get up in that game against LSU," Taylor said. "I thought I might go in and catch. (OSU undergraduate assistant coach) Ryan Ortiz sprinted down to the bullpen to tell me that I'm in. That put a big smile on my face. I got out there and just looked around. It was 'wow, I'm playing in the College World Series.'"
Oregon State then met LSU again on June 23, but, this time, the Tigers came away with a 3-1 win. That set up a third game between the squads, with the losing team being eliminated from World Series play. LSU picked up a 6-1 victory in that game, played June 24, ending the Beavers' season.
Rutschman, in addition to having the game-winning hit against Cal-State Fullerton, also had two amazing defensive plays at the World Series, each time leaping straight out from his catcher position to make diving catches of popped-up bunts. Both of those plays, made against Cal-State Fullerton and LSU, made the SportsCenter top 10 each night.
"It's rare to get that many plays like that at catcher," Rutschman said. "It felt amazing to be on the SportsCenter top 10, but the best part was being there with my team."
After the Series
Neither Rutschman nor Taylor took much of a break following the World Series.
Taylor is playing summer ball with the Corvallis Knights of the West Coast League. Rutschman played with the Falmouth (Mass.) Commodores of the storied Cape Cod League.
"It was good," Rutschman said. "I got to play against a lot of good competition and meet a lot of new people. It was whole new experience, living with a host family, and I've never been to that part of the country before."
Taylor is having a big season for the Knights. Through Tuesday, he was hitting for a .301 average, with six doubles, three home runs, 21 runs scored and 21 RBIs in 32 games. He also played in the West Coast League all-star game.
"The best thing is that I'm getting a lot of at-bats," Taylor said. "I'm working on my timing, and seeing the ball."
The Knights were scheduled to host Yakima Valley in a postseason game on Wednesday. Results of that game weren't available when the Times went to press.
Rutschman and Taylor, and likely the rest of the Oregon State squad, is already looking ahead to the 2018 season.
"We've got some unfinished business," Rutschman said. "We've got a lot of returning guys. We've got more experience, and we know what we need to do."
"We've got the same goal in mind," Taylor said. "This year will add more fuel to the fire. We're going to work even harder."
Rutschman certainly seems to be dedicated to help the Beavers take the next step.
A standout kicker (he set the Oregon high school state record with a 63-yard field goal while at Sherwood), he served as the Oregon State kickoff specialist during the 2016 football season, booming 20 kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks.
He decided not to play with the Beaver football squad this fall.
"It was a tough decision," he said. "I had some long talks with my family. It's one of those things. I wish I could play both. It was a great experience, but you have to be totally committed, and I felt like I cheating both teams."
It sounds like Rutschman and Taylor are both committed to put the Beavers — and Sherwood — back in the College World Series again next year.