Matt Boyd came back just for this
OMAHA, Neb. -- They escorted the man of the evening down a dim and dank hallway, behind a black curtain. He cupped a red Powerade and bottle of water in his left hand, a cellphone in his right, waiting for his turn to step in front of the microphones and cameras and tell everyone here how he did it. He couldn't stop grinning, that wide smirk spanning across clean-shaven cheeks.
Yes, Matt Boyd had every reason to be happy. Twenty minutes earlier, the senior had kissed his left hand and pointed it to the sky after finishing his four-hit, complete-game, 1-0 shutout that sent Oregon State on to another game with Mississippi State and Indiana barreling out of the College World Series and back to Bloomington.
Boyd struck out 11 Hoosiers and frustrated at least that many more, getting inside with 89-mph fastballs and dancing breaking balls all around the zone.
"Obviously, I don't have to say how well Matt pitched," Oregon State coach Pat Casey said. "It was amazing."
As his coach spoke, Boyd stood behind the curtain, fixated on the Stanley Cup finals game in overtime on the flat screen overhead. After a couple minutes, he walked into the interview room as Indiana head coach Tracy Smith walked out. They nodded in passing.
The beige door slammed behind Boyd, and inside the microphone reverberated his words through the walls. He explained how he carved up the Hoosiers.
"My curveball and slider were working very well today," Boyd said. "Being able to put [them] on both sides of the plate and get ahead early, down in the zone, opened up both sides of the plate for my other pitches as well."
Six feet outside that door stood Smith, fiddling with his hat and answering in a low pitch questions about next year, about hope. From hosting a regional to smacking Florida State down in the Tallahassee Super Regional to winning a game at TD Ameritrade, this was a forever season for these Hoosiers. Smith recognized that. He talked about blueprints and foundations for a future that, even if uninsured, seems brighter than ever in Bloomington.
Still, Smith fielded no questions about Mississippi State. All he could do was look to his right, where his sophomore right-hander Aaron Slegers stood against a white brick wall with a hot camera light shined in his face.
Slegers also threw a complete game, allowing only the one earned run and striking out five. It was a career game for him, but that comforted him little in these first moments of the postseason. A wave of disappointment had washed over his illuminated face. Mercifully, reporters turned back to Smith and Slegers was set free. Still in full uniform, his metal spikes clacked down the hallway until he was gone.
"Win, lose or draw as a coach, you have those seasons where you just hate for it to end," Smith said. "And unfortunately it ends for us tonight. Whether we won a national championship or not, the toughest part for me was going to be walking off the field for the last time with some of the individuals here."
That point will come for the Beavers, too, but for another night they get to dream about it being a sweet goodbye. They, along with four others, get to continue the dream of leaving TD Ameritrade Park as national champions. Tomorrow, they forget the Hoosiers and pull back their bows with the Bulldogs now the target.
"They're very competitive, very good," Casey said. "The bullpen is very strong. They've got a quality closer. We'll go to work on that again tomorrow."
It's still something of a slog for Oregon State. The Beavers have to beat Mississippi State, which is undefeated so far in this World Series, on Friday afternoon, and then they have to do it again on Saturday. If they can, they will begin a best-of-three championship series on Monday against North Carolina, NC State or UCLA.
To do that, they will need sophomores Michael Conforto and Dylan Davis to cause more havoc in the middle of the order. They will need Danny Hayes, hitting behind Davis, to inflict great pain on those who choose to sidestep Davis with intentional walks, as Indiana did twice Wednesday evening. They will need Tyler Smith and Andy Peterson to be sources of agony and frustration for opponents at the top of the lineup.
It can't always be Boyd, can't always be a shutout, and it won't be.
Come Friday against the Bulldogs, maybe the Beavers' bats will decide it's their turn.
But there's no question this one against Indiana was Boyd's. From Mercer Island, Wash., to Corvallis, Ore., to Omaha, this one was a long time coming for the senior who returned to school to do just this.
"When you coach young men, it's difficult enough, but he's a no-maintenance guy," Casey said. "He's the guy you never have to worry about. I always had a great relationship with him. He's just a really fun kid to coach, and he's a great man."
Outside the interview room, Casey put pressure on the assembled media to finish their questions with Boyd. Everyone else was already on the bus and waiting.
"I have to get these guys home and to bed," Casey cracked.
Boyd said thanks for the questions and began down the hallway alone. He hung a right at the ramp and descended 15 steps down through glass double-doors into a waiting, roaring throng of Oregon State fans.
Indiana had enough of Boyd, and now those who came halfway across the country wanted their piece. Boyd, still smiling, posed for pictures with little boys and teenage girls. He scribbled his signature on the orange brims. Bars across the street bumped and blared.
"Thank you! Thank you!" Boyd hollered to the crowd before climbing into the bus. He took seat No. 28, on the left side against the window, and smiled at his teammates.
"Well, was the wait worth it -- getting that picture with the pitcher?" a father said, looking down to his young beaming son.
For Boyd, for Oregon State, for everyone who wore orange in the late hours of Wednesday evening in Omaha, it most certainly was.