Story courtesy of Kent State Sports Information
– The NCAA Baseball Tournament is designed so the 64 participants fortunate enough to reach postseason play are assured of extending their seasons by at least two games in the four-team, double elimination regional round of the tournament.
Teams are expecting to play at least 21 innings on regional weekend. Most aren't banking on playing all of them in one day. And especially not in one game.
Six hours and 37 minutes after Kentucky junior left-handed starting pitcher Taylor Rogers got Kent State junior center fielder Evan Campbell (Beloit, Ohio) to hit a first-pitch ground out to second in the opening game of the 2012 NCAA Championship Gary Regional Friday (June 1) at U.S. Steel Yard, Kent State redshirt sophomore left-handed reliever Michael Clark (Akron, Ohio) struck out Kentucky senior infielder Thomas McCarthy to close the epic book on a 7-6, 21-inning triumph at 10:38 p.m. for the No. 25-ranked Kent State baseball team over No. 13 Kentucky, the winning margin provided by an RBI triple to deep center field by freshman left fielder Alex Miklos (Grove City, Pa.) in the top half of the 21st frame in front of a delirious 5,016 in Gary.
Ranked No. 25 in the nation according to the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper, Kent State, the regional's No. 3 seed, advanced to its second straight NCAA Regional Winner's Bracket Final and will play the regional No. 1-seed Purdue – ranked 16th in the country – Saturday (June 2) at 8:05 p.m. ET (7:05 p.m. CT). The game will be televised live on the Big Ten Network. The Boilermakers knocked off regional No. 4 seed Valparaiso, 7-2, in the second game of the regional.
Friday's contest, which featured 678 pitches by five pitchers from each team, 43 runners left on base and 47 strikeouts, marked the second-longest NCAA Tournament contest in the history of the event. The only game to go longer was the 2009 25-inning, 3-2 Texas victory over Boston College at the Austin Regional.
"I'm glad we didn't get it," said eighth-year head coach and 2012 Mid-American Conference Coach of the Year Scott Stricklin of the 25-inning record. "It's certainly better to be on the winning side of that one."
With the contest knotted at six-all going into the 21st inning, fifth-year senior left fielder Joe Koch (Uniontown, Ohio) got Kent State's final push started by legging out a swinging bunt single to second off Kentucky freshman southpaw reliever A.J. Reed. Koch advanced to second when redshirt junior designated hitter Nick Hamilton (Avon Lake, Ohio) laid down a sacrifice bunt, setting the table for Miklos, who came to the plate having gone 1 for 7 and striking out three times. The freshman responded by sending a 1-0 triple into deeper center, allowing Koch to scamper home and give Kent State a 7-6 lead.
Clark opened the bottom of the 21st by striking out Kentucky redshirt sophomore pinch hitter Michael Thomas for the first out. Junior left fielder Zac Zellers countered with a single to right, and freshman pinch hitter Jeff Boehm followed by getting beaned by a pitch to put two on with one out for the Wildcats. Clark forced freshman center fielder Austin Cousino to ground out to second for the second out, but Zellers and Boehm each moved up 90 feet on the play to put the winning run on second for Kentucky. Clark dug deep, though, getting McCarthy swinging end the marathon game and send the Golden Flashes to the winner's bracket final of a NCAA Regional for the second straight year. Kent State bested Texas State, 4-2, in 12 innings in the opening game of 2011 NCAA Championship Austin Regional last year.
The Golden Flashes (42-17) ran their nation-long winning streak to 18 games with their first victory in six tries against the Wildcats (42-17). Kent State has won 33 of their last 40 games – including 22 of their last 24.
Kent State junior first baseman and Louisville Slugger Second Team All-America selection George Roberts (Summerhill, Pa.) led a 20-hit barrage for the Golden Flashes with a career-high five base knocks – including two doubles – to go along with two RBIs and a run scored. The contest marked the third time in 2012 Kent State finished a game with 20 or more hits. Senior shortstop Jimmy Rider (Venetia, Pa.) – the MAC's all-time hits leader with 342 career base knocks – finished with four singles while Miklos, Koch, Hamilton and sophomore second baseman Derek Toadvine (Springfield, Ohio) each added two hits apiece. Roberts and Toadvine each had 10 at-bats – tying them each for an NCAA record in that category.
The Flashes landed the game's first punch with a run in the top of the second. Roberts sent a leadoff base hit back up the middle. Sophomore right fielder T.J. Sutton (Uniontown, Ohio) was then hit by a pitch, and Hamilton loaded the bases with no outs courtesy of a single to left. Roberts scored by way of a botched double play attempt by Kentucky, but Kent State only managed to get one run out of the bases-loaded situation.
Kentucky answered back with two runs in the home half of the third. Cousino was struck by a pitch with one out. McCarthy followed with a single to left, and junior first baseman Luke Maile then plated Kentucky first run by plating Cousino with a single to right. McCarthy scored on an RBI groundout by Reed to give the Wildcats a 2-1 edge.
Kent State fired back with a three-run fourth inning to take a 4-2 lead. Freshman third baseman Sawyer Polen (Wooster, Ohio) led off the frame with a base hit to left center. Polen moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Miklos, then to third on a bunt single by Toadvine. Polen scored on a balk by Rogers to tie the game. Rider gave the lead back to Kent State with a single to left to score Toadvine. After Kentucky lifted Rogers in favor of senior lefty Alex Phillips, Roberts doubled home Campbell to make it a two-run contest again.
Kentucky crept back within one in the fifth inning when Maile hit a one-out single to left field, moved to third on a double to right center one out later by senior catcher Michael Williams and scored on a wild pitch.
The Wildcats tied the game in the seventh when Cousino hit a leadoff triple down the left field line to chase Kent State senior southpaw ace and Louisville Slugger Second Team All-America pick David Starn (Hudson, Ohio) from the contest and scored on an RBI groundout by McCarthy to tie the game at four-all. Junior right-handed relief pitcher Casey Wilson (Sagamore Hills, Ohio) got Maile to fly out to right and Reed to ground out to second to end the frame.
Kent State snatched the lead back in the ensuing frame when Rider placed a one-out single into right center and scored on a base hit to right center by Roberts to give the Flashes a 5-4 edge.
Kentucky put the tying run on third in the eighth, but Kent State freshman left-handed closer and Second Team All-MAC selection Brian Clark (Munroe Falls, Ohio) struck out redshirt freshman pinch hitter Thomas Bernal swinging to extinguish the threat.
Kentucky answered right back, though, in the bottom of the ninth as Cousino hit a leadoff single through the right side, moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by McCarthy and scored by way of a single back up the middle by Maile.
Brian Clark and redshirt freshman right-handed pitcher Josh Pierce (Avon, Ohio) then proceeded to keep Kentucky off of the scored over the next eight frames until the Flashes finally broke through again with a run in the 18th to take a 6-5 lead as Campbell singled through the left side, moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Rider and to third on a sacrifice fly by Roberts to set the table for Koch to beat out a two-out infield single that allowed Campbell to scamper home and put the Blue & Gold back in front.
The Wildcats did not go away easily, though, as McConkey coaxed a one-out walk from Pierce and moved to third on a single to right by Reed. The Flashes dipped into their bullpen for Clark, who gave up a double to right center to Williams. McConkey scored to tie the game again, but Reed was thrown out at the plate on a perfectly executed Campbell-to-Rider-to senior catcher David Lyon (Emporium, Pa.) relay to keep Kentucky from ending the game on a walk-off win.
Kentucky threatened again in the 20th, loading the bases with one out, but Clark forced Kentucky sophomore second baseman J.T. Riddle to ground into a classic 1-2-3 double play to once again keep the Wildcats from finishing the game with a walk-off victory.
Clark twirled 3.2 scoreless relief frames and scattered four hits while striking out four to earn the pitching win for Kent State, improving to 3-4 on the 2012 season. Starn threw the first six innings, striking out six while giving up four earned runs on eight hits.