'One of the toughest things you have to do if you win is block out distractions'
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Oregon State players were happy to answer any questions about the baseball part of the College World Series. The topic of Luke Heimlich was a non-starter.
Heimlich, the Pac-12 pitcher of the year, announced Thursday he would not accompany the Beavers to Omaha because he didn't want to be a distraction.
Last week it was revealed that when Heimlich was a teenager he pleaded guilty to molesting a 6-year-old girl. He did not pitch in the Beavers' super regional against Vanderbilt.
Coach Pat Casey said Heimlich made the decision to stay home on his own; if Heimlich had wanted to, he would have been allowed to travel to Omaha with the team.
Oregon State, the No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, opens the CWS on Saturday against Cal State Fullerton.
Players gushed over the opportunity to play for a national championship and the success they've enjoyed this season. At 54-4, the Beavers have the fewest losses of any team entering a CWS since Texas came 57-4 in in 1982.
Questions to a half-dozen players about Heimlich and his absence were deflected with no comment or responses about how the team is close-knit and how it approaches games "one game at a time, one pitch at a time."
Catcher KJ Harrison, without mentioning Heimlich, generally addressed the cloud over the program.
"You just get stronger from it," he said. "It's one of those things. We're looking to play this weekend and we're looking at our next opponent and we keep a very good team aspect in here."
Ron Prettyman, NCAA managing director of championships and alliances, said in an interview with The Associated Press that the NCAA had no input on whether Heimlich should participate or be with the team in Omaha.
Prettyman said he knew of no discussions at the NCAA level since Heimlich's sex offender status came to light about instituting a policy that would bar an athlete who has a felony record from participating. Those decisions, he said, are left up to the school.
Asked if it was best for the CWS that Heimlich stayed away, Prettyman said, "There are pros and cons. My heart goes out to the victim but also to the young man who is paying severe consequences for a bad action. I really don't have a strong opinion about it — not that it made it easier or harder or anything else. We allowed the situation to run its course and we're here to support Oregon State in the process."
Casey said his players have dealt with the situation as well as could be expected.
"I really haven't talked a whole lot about it," he said. "Our guys are very tight-knit group of guys. They've handled it with class. You prepare for distractions. I tell guys at the beginning of the season every year that one of the toughest things you have to do if you win is block out distractions. They can come from anywhere."
Details about the molestation were revealed last week in a story published by The Oregonian/OregonLive. In an editorial accompanying the article, the newspaper said it learned about Heimlich's 2012 conviction in Washington state after running a background check that it routinely does for in-depth profiles.
Heimlich was the team's top pitcher, with an 11-1 record and nation-best 0.76 ERA. He had been projected to be an early round pick in Major League Baseball's draft, which ended Wednesday without him being selected.
Prosecutors in Washington state initially charged Heimlich with two counts of molestation for abuse that began when the girl was 4, The Oregonian said. He ultimately pleaded guilty to one count of molestation in 2011, a period during which he was 15. Prosecutors dismissed the other charge.
He finished his probation and court-ordered sex offender treatment in fall 2014, around the time he moved to Corvallis to attend Oregon State.
Heimlich has said he plans to return for his senior year at Oregon State and rejoin the baseball team.