Campbell’s Game-Saving Catch Puts No. 13 Kent State Baseball On Brink Of Trip To College World Series
EUGENE, Ore. – Junior center fielder Evan Campbell (Beloit, Ohio) made a leaping, turn-around catch in deep left-center field to bail No. 13 Kent State baseball out of a two-out, bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the ninth inning and secure a heart-stopping 7-6 win over No. 8 Oregon in the opening game of the 2012 NCAA Championship Eugene Super Regional Saturday (June 9) at PK Park.
"It just shows how tough our kids are," said eighth-year head coach and 2012 Mid-American Conference Coach of the Year Scott Stricklin. "It was certainly a hard-fought win. We made pitches when we needed to and made plays when we needed to, and Evan Campbell just made an unbelievable play to give us a huge win."
The victory puts the Golden Flashes (45-17) one victory away from clinching the best-of-three series over the Ducks (45-18) and earning the program's first trip to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb. Game two of the series is slated for Sunday (June 10) at 10 p.m. ET (7 p.m. ET) and will be nationally televised on ESPNU.
Ranked No. 13 in the nation according to Collegiate Baseball Newspaper, the Golden Flashes ran their nation-long winning streak to 21 games – including eight in the post-season – courtesy of the victory over the Ducks. The 2012 MAC Regular Season and Tournament champions, Kent State has won 36 of its last 43 games – including 25 of 27. The one-run win marked Kent State's second straight and fifth of the 21-game winning streak. Kent State's 45 victories in 2012 match the 1992 and 2011 squads for the most wins in a single season in program history.
Kent State took a 7-4 advantage into the bottom of the ninth inning, but Oregon was not about to go quietly. Sophomore right fielder Aaron Jones coaxed a leadoff walk, and sophomore first baseman Ryon Healy and sophomore left fielder Brett Thomas followed with back-to-back singles to fill the bases with Ducks and chase Kent State Louisville Slugger Freshman All-America left-handed reliever Brian Clark (Munroe Falls, Ohio) from the contest. The Golden Flashes called upon redshirt freshman right-handed reliever Josh Pierce (Avon, Ohio) out of the bullpen to put out the fire, and Pierce responded by striking out sophomore designated hitter Kyle Garlick for the first out. Oregon cut Kent State's lead to two runs when junior third baseman Ryan Hambright served up a sacrifice fly to left to allow Jones to tag up and score. Redshirt senior catcher Brett Hambright reloaded the bases for Oregon by drawing a walk. Junior pinch hitter Andrew Mendenhall made it a one-run game by bumping home Healy by drawing a walk. That brought junior shortstop J.J. Antobelli to the plate with a chance to at least tie the game. He gave a blistering liner a ride into center field, but Campbell made the greatest catch in the history of Kent State baseball to put the Flashes one win away from Omaha.
Pierce nailed down the save for Kent State, his second of his career. Kent State overcame 11 walks by Oregon to get the win. Senior southpaw ace and 2012 Louisville Slugger Second Team All-America David Starn (Hudson, Ohio) took a no-hitter into the fifth inning and earned the win to improve to 11-3 on the season, working 6.1 frames and striking out five while allowing four earned runs on five hits and seven walks. The 2012 MAC Pitcher of the Year, Starn, who is Kent State's career leader in pitching victories, strikeouts and innings pitched, improved to 29-9 with 343 strikeouts over 335.1 innings pitched.
Senior shortstop and MAC all-time hits leader Jimmy Rider (Venetia, Pa.) led Kent State's bats with a double, a single, two RBIs and two runs scored – marking his team-leading 30th multi-hit game of the season and increasing his career base knocks total to 348 hits. Sophomore right fielder T.J. Sutton (Uniontown, Ohio) added two doubles, an RBI and two runs scored to the Kent State cause.
Kent State broke the scoreless tie with two runs in the top of the third inning courtesy of some two-out lightning. Campbell sent a double into center that was just out of the grasp of the glove of Oregon senior center fielder Vernell Warren. Rider plated Campbell with a base hit to left. Rider's RBI single marked his 100th hit of the 2012 season, breaking the program's single-season record of 99, which was previously held by John VanBenschoten (2001) and Anthony Gallas (2010). Rider upped Kent State's lead to 2-0 when he scored on a three-base throwing error by Oregon senior right-handed starting pitcher Alex Keudell that put senior catcher and 2012 Lowe's Senior CLASS Award finalist David Lyon (Emporium, Pa.) on second base.
Oregon got a run back in the home half of the third as Antobelli coaxed a leadoff walk, advanced to second on a groundout by sophomore second baseman Aaron Payne, moved to third on a balk by Starn and scored on an RBI groundout by Healy.
The Golden Flashes answered in the ensuing frame when Sutton smashed a leadoff double to right, moved up 90 feet to third on a groundout by redshirt junior designated hitter Nick Hamilton (Avon Lake, Ohio) and scored on a single by freshman third baseman Sawyer Polen (Wooster, Ohio) to make it a 3-1 ballgame.
Kent State tacked on two more runs in the fifth. Campbell reached on a fielding error by Warren on a deep fly ball. Rider plated Campbell with an RBI double to right center – his 28th two-bagger of the 2012 season, which broke Kent State's single-season record of 27 previously held by Steve Smetana (1995) and Ben Klafczynski (2010). Junior first baseman and 2012 Louisville Slugger Second Team All-America pick George Roberts (Summerhill, Pa.) moved Rider up to third with a single up the middle, and Rider scored when Sutton lifted a sacrifice fly to center to up Kent State's advantage to 5-1.
Oregon retaliated with a run in the bottom of the frame. Jones drew a leadoff walk, advanced to third on a single to center by Healy and scored one out later when Garlick sent a sacrifice fly into center to allow him to tag up and score. Unfortunately for the Ducks, it turned into an inning-ending double play, as Lyon fired the return throw back to second base to throw out Healy as he tried to take second, holding Oregon to just one run in the inning.
The Ducks cut Kent State's lead to 5-3 in the home half of the sixth as Ryan Hambright sent a leadoff single back up the middle, advanced to second on a ground out by Brett Hambright and scored one out later on a base hit to left by Altobelli.
Oregon made it a one-run game in the seventh as Jones cracked a leadoff double to down the right field line, moved up to third on a ground out by Healy and scored by way of an RBI single to left sophomore left fielder Brett Thomas, chasing Starn from the contest as Kent State called upon junior right-handed reliever Casey Wilson (Sagamore Hills, Ohio) out of its bullpen. Wilson responded by getting Garlick to fly out to center and getting Ryan Hambright to roll over to short to force Thomas out at second and get the Golden Flashes out of the seventh clinging to a 5-4 lead.
Kent State responded to the Oregon challenge by plating two more insurance runs in the top of the eighth. Sutton got things going with a one-out double down the left field line, chasing Keudell from the game. Polen coaxed a walk-one out later, and both Sutton and Polen scored on a fielding error by Jones in right, making it a 7-4 contest.
Keudell, the 2012 Pac-12 Conference Pitcher of the Year, was saddled with the pitching defeat for the Ducks, falling to 11-5 on the season after surrendering six runs – two earned – on nine hits. He struck out four.
Kent State junior Second Team All-MAC righty Ryan Bores (Strongsville, Ohio) gets the start on the hill Sunday for the Golden Flashes and is slated to oppose Oregon freshman right hander Jake Reed. Bores is 9-2 on the season with a 3.29 ERA and 63 strikeouts against 15 walks. He will be going for his fifth straight mound triumph. Reed is 7-4 with a 2.93 ERA and 61 strikeouts against 40 walks.