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June 18, 2012Follow KentStateReport.com on Twitter | Givler | Birmingham
Despite all sorts of ugliness, and a serious strike-shortage in a nail-biting ninth inning, the dream is still alive.
Kent State: 5. Florida, the number one ranked team in the country and top overall seed in the College World Series: 4.
It wasn't pretty, but it doesn't always have to be. The win is the thing and Scott Stricklin, along with his coaching staff and players fought tooth and nail like they have all year for another improbable victory.
It started like many of Kent State's post-season games have: with an early lead for the Golden Flashes, and as usual, it was senior shortstop Jimmy Rider who served as the catalyst. After reaching on a throwing error by his Florida counterpart, Rider advanced to third on the first of three hits from catcher David Lyon. With two on and one out, George Roberts singled to right and the Flashes were on the board against Florida ace Hudson Randall. After a fielders choice, Randall was able to get freshman Sawyer Pollen on strikes to escape with limited damage. For Randall though, it was the end of his day. Suffering from what appeared to be heat stroke, he could not return for Florida in the second and Gators' head coach Kevin O'Sullivan was forced to turn to the bullpen. Randall, Florida's all time leader in NCAA tournament wins was chased, and the Flashes went right back to work.
In the second, Jason Bagoly welcomed new Florida pitcher Jonathan Crawford to the game with a single to center. Alex Miklos laid down a bunt to move up Bagoly when Florida third baseman Josh Tobias' throw couldn't be handled, and both runners were safe. Derek Toadvine's successful sacrifice bunt moved the runners to second and third with only one out.
Kent State was in business with the top of the lineup coming to the plate. After a strikeout by Evan Campbell, it appeared Crawford would get out of the inning without any damage, but Rider legged out an infield single to third and it was 2-0 Flashes. Back-to-back singles by Roberts and Lyon plated runs and at the end of the bottom of the second, Kent State led #1 Florida 4-0.
The teams traded runs in the third and fourth innings, and Florida collected one more in the sixth after Kent State's TJ Sutton misplayed a two-out fly ball in right centerfield, allowing a run to score.
Florida had clawed their way back into the game by chipping away at Kent starting pitcher Ryan Bores, and in the sixth inning it was clear that they had figured out the righty. In the bottom of the sixth, it appeared that Bores slipped on a step in the dugout and injured his ankle, and that was the end of his night.
In the top of the seventh, Stricklin went to freshman Brian Clark, and the freshman All-American was unable to get the job done, giving up two runs on three hits and a walk in two-thirds of an inning, and the vaunted Kent State bullpen, a model of consistency all year, now sat on a precarious 5-4 lead, needing 6 more outs to knock off the Gators.
Casey Wilson, who had entered the game for Kent State to replace the inefficient Clark in the 7th, allowed a lead-off single in the top of the 8th and Florida was once again threatening. After quieting down the threat with consecutive outs, Stricklin once more went to his bullpen, calling on sophomore lefty Michael Clark to finish off the 8th. After walking the first batter he faced, Clark got Florida's Nolan Fontana to pop out to Rider and the Flashes were three outs away.
Three very difficult outs.
In the ninth, Clark once again walked the lead-off hitter, and with two balls and no strikes against the SEC's Player of the Year, Mike Zunino, Stricklin went one last time to his now thinning bullpen. Freshman Josh Pierce got the call to face the slugger and failed to throw a strike before surrendering another walk to him. With two on and no one out, pinch-hitter Cody Dent dropped a successful sacrifice bunt and Florida had the winning run in scoring positon with one out. Pierce then hit the Gators' Daniel Pigott to load the bases, still with only one out. After a strikeout of second baseman Casey Turgeon, Pierece went to work on Florida's Justin Shafer, who had already collected two hits on the day. Shafer drove the ball to right-centerfield, but TJ Sutton was able to run it down and put the clamps on it for hard earned third out and the first ever Golden Flashes college world series victory.
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