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June 11, 2012EUGENE, Ore. - With a 3-2 victory over the Oregon Ducks, the Kent State Golden Flashes have accomplished what no team in school, or conference, history has ever done. They are on their way to Omaha, Nebraska and will play for all the marbles in the College World Series.
It was another quick start for the Flashes offense. Consecutive singles by Jimmy Rider and David Lyon put the Ducks on notice that the hitting was under way. T.J Sutton came through with a two out single to left to give Kent State the first run of the game for the third straight night.
In the second, Sawyer Polen led off with a single to left, and he was joined on the base paths by Alex Miklos who promptly singled to center. Derek Toadvine legged out an infield single, but the inning short-circuited when Evan Campbell ground into a 4-6-3 double play that pushed Polen across for the second run of the game. It was 6-foot-6 right-hander Tyler Skulina, 11-2 on the season, who took to the mound in the sudden death matchup against the 46-18 Ducks, and he was on his game like he has been most of the year. He took advantage of it of the early offense, and Skulina gave Scott Stricklin and his teammates a strong five and two-thirds before giving way to Casey Wilson, who shut the door on a potential Ducks rally in the top of the sixth inning.
Unfortunately for Skulina, the bullpen was unable to keep the Ducks off the board for much longer. In the top of the 8th, Oregon's J.J. Altobelli's lead-off single to center chased Wilson, and Stricklin turned to freshman lefty Brian Clark to try and close out the game and earn the CWS berth. Clark walked the first hitter he faced, and with two on and no one out, the Ducks, who've made a living playing from behind in this series, were in business once again. Following an Aaron Jones sacrifice bunt, Clark went to work on Oregon first basemen Ryon Healy, who pushed one through the right side of the Kent State defense, scoring both Altobelli and Aaron Jones. Clark was able to retire DH Kyle Garlick to retire the side, but the damage was done. Just like that, and just like the previous two nights, it was a whole new ballgame.
After a quiet bottom half of the eighth inning, Stricklin stuck with his Freshman All-American left-hander, and Clark did not disappoint. He came out firing strikes on his way to a leadoff strikeout of Ryan Hambright. With one out, Brett Hambright lined a hot shot to third, but freshman Sawyer Polen moved quickly to his left to handle the hard one-hopper and made a perfect throw across the diamond to record the second out. Pinch-hitter Andrew Mendenhall rolled out to shortstop, and the Flashes had their turn to clinch a World Series berth in the bottom of the ninth inning. A chance to play spoiler, to play Cinderella, and more importantly, playing the role of the home team 2500 miles away from "The Heart of it All."
In the ninth, Oregon righty Jimmie Sherfy, who had shut down the Flashes without incident in the bottom of the eighth, broke a cardinal rule of pitching: he walked the lead-off hitter. To further exacerbate the issue, that leadoff hitter also happened to be the ninth hitter in the Flashes lineup, Derek Toadvine.
Evan Campbell's perfectly executed sacrifice bunt on the first pitch he saw moved Toadvine into scoring position with one out, and to the plate strolled Jimmy Rider. Rider, the MAC's all-time hit leader, and Sherfy, went toe-to-toe for six pitches, and with the count full, Rider lofted one down the left field line. Oregon leftfielder Brett Thomas seemed to have trouble locating the ball off the bat, and as it tailed away from him towards the chalk, shortstop Altobelli closed in, seeing if he could make the play with his back towards home plate. He could not. Thomas could not. The ball fell harmlessly between them, and as Rider rounded first, Toadvine took the corner at third and motored home for the game-winning third run.
It was not hit hard, it was not hit far, and it was aided by another Duck defensive miscue, but it fell. The Golden Flashes are on their way to Omaha to compete for the national championship.
The win, Kent State's 46th of the season, establishes a new school best, and as the dust settles in Eugene, there can be no doubt that they belonged there. MAC or not, these boys can scrap, and they did it for three straight nights against one of the "big boys" and emerged as the better team.
Kent State will take their next step towards a national title when they play in Omaha on Saturday, June 16th, at 5:00pm. They will face Arkansas, who bested Baylor to earn their spot. The Hogs are 43-20 on the season.
KentStateReport.com will have more on the Golden Flashes first ever College World Series berth throughout the week.
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