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June 10, 2012Follow KentStateReport.com on Twitter | Givler | Birmingham
As the clock struck near 2:15 in the morning in Kent, the Golden Flashes baseball team was nearly snatching defeat from the jaws of victory 2500-plus miles away in Eugene, Oregon. The drama and pressure couldn't derail Kent State though as they held off a prolonged rally from Oregon and escaped with a 7-6 win in game one of their first ever NCAA Super Regional.
It was a sloppy performance from both teams, but the Kent State was able to capitalize where the Ducks were not. When Kent State's Evan Campbell ran down a first pitch drive from Oregon's J.J. Altobelli in the left-field gap to leave the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth, coach Scott Stricklin and his Flashes let loose a collective exhale and found themselves one win away from a trip to Omaha for the College World Series.
The game started better than it ended for Kent State as they took a 2-0 lead in the top half of the third inning against Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year Alex Keudell, thanks in part to poor Duck defense. Evan Campbell started that rally with a sinking line-drive to right-center that kicked off the glove of a diving Vernell Warren. Campbell's double was promptly followed up by a sharp single to left off the bat of MAC all-time hit leader Jimmy Rider, which put the Golden Flashes on the board for a 1-0 lead. With Rider on first, Kent State's homerun leader, senior catcher David Lyon laid down a surprise bunt down the third-base line. Keudell's throw to first was hurried and went careening down the first base line and Rider motored around to score all the way from first base, giving the Golden Flashes a 2-0 lead for MAC Pitcher of the Year, David Starn. Another Rider hit, his school single-season best 101st of the year, plated Campbell once more in the fifth, and Kent State took a 5-2 lead into the bottom of that inning.
That's when the trouble started.
Despite not giving up a hit until Oregon's Ryon Healy singled to center in the bottom of the fifth, Starn was unable to find a rhythm early, or the strike zone. The 7th round selection of the Atlanta Braves walked the lead-off hitter in the third and fourth innings, as well as the sixth, and as his pitch count reached 115 in the bottom of the 7th, and clinging to a one run lead, Stricklin was forced to bring in sophomore reliever Casey Wilson, who helped KSU escape the frame clinging to a 5-4 lead.
In the eighth, more Duck mistakes opened the door for Kent State to add two much needed insurance runs. With one out, T.J Sutton doubled to right for his second hit of the game to chase Keudell, who was replaced by Thomas Thorpe, who was brought in to face Nick Hamilton. Thorpe did his job and got Hamilton swinging for the second out of the frame. Ducks manager George Horton went right back to his bullpen, calling on sophomore righty Jimmie Sherfy. Nicknamed "Wild Thing" for his unpredictability on the bump, Sherfy walked Sawyer Polen, leading to a two-out, two on showdown with freshman Alex Miklos. Miklos hit a soft line-drive to right that skipped under the glove of rightfielder Aaron Jones and both runners came around to score, giving Kent State a 7-4 lead.
In the ninth, freshman All-American left-hander Brian Clark put Jones on with a leadoff walk, and the game was afoot. Healy and leftfielder Brett Thomas singled consecutively and Stricklin went to redshirt freshman righty Josh Pierce.
Pierce struck-out Kyle Garlick swinging, and allowed a sacrifice fly to the Ducks' Ryan Hambright, which cut the Flashes lead to 7-5. With two outs, Brett Hambright earned a walk and the bases were loaded once again. Horton went to the bench and Andrew Mendenhall, pinch-hitting for Vernell Warren, earned his own walk, forcing in a run to make it 7-6. Shortstop J.J. Altobelli strolled to the plate and put a licking on the first pitch he saw, driving it into the gap, and what appeared to be a heartbreaking end to what should have been a monumental, program shaping, win. On contact, Campbell got a great jump and tracked down the liner, making a tumbling, over-the-shoulder, game-winning catch. Despite his struggles, Starn picked up his 11th victory of the season against two losses.
Sunday night, Kent State will attempt to win their 22nd consecutive game and earn the first berth in the CWS in program history. Ryan Bores, a second team All-MAC performer this season, will take the hill for Stricklin's squad as they attempt to secure a program record 46th victory. Bores is 9-2 on the season, and will square off against Oregon freshman right-hander Jake Reed.
The series' second game starts at 10pm EST and can be seen on ESPNU.
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