No. 8 Kent State Sends No. 1 Florida Home With First Win In NCAA College World Series In Program History
OMAHA, Neb. – Whether No. 8 Kent State baseball is the Cinderella story of the 2012 NCAA College World Series or not is up for debate, depending on who you ask.
What's not up for debate? This team is good enough to send the top-ranked squad in the country home for the summer.
The bats came alive early, junior right-handed starting pitcher Ryan Bores (Strongsville, Ohio) was solid and redshirt freshman right-handed reliever Josh Pierce (Avon, Ohio) got out of a bases-loaded jam twice in the top of the ninth inning to help Kent State top No. 1 Florida, 5-4, Monday (June 18) in a Bracket 2 elimination game at TD Ameritrade Park.
"It was an outstanding win for our program and our university and all of Northeastern Ohio and Western Pennsylvania, which these kids represent," said eighth-year head coach and 2012 Mid-American Conference Coach of the Year Scott Stricklin. "Really proud of what we were able to accomplish. I don't think many people gave us much of a chance today, but there are 27 players and five coaches and a lot of fans that believe we can win, and we felt that. We felt that we could win this game. We just beat a great team, a team that deservedly so was ranked number one in the country and is well coached and really talented. We were just able to find a way to win."
Kent State held a 5-2 lead heading into the seventh inning thanks to some timely hitting and six solid innings from the arm of Bores, who limited Florida to two earned runs on six hits and two walks.
The Gators put pressure on the Kent State bullpen, though, plating two more runs in the top of the seventh.
Kent State redshirt sophomore left-handed reliever Michael Clark (Akron, Ohio) forced Florida to strand two runners in the eighth, but issued back-to-back walks to senior right fielder Preston Tucker and junior catcher Mike Zunino to open the top of the ninth, giving way to Pierce.
Pierce's start to the ninth was shaky, as Florida junior pinch hitter Cody Dent laid down a sacrifice bunt to move Tucker and Zunino into scoring position. Pierce then hit Florida senior center fielder Daniel Pigott with a pitch to load the bases with one out. He threw three straight balls with freshman second baseman Casey Turgeon at the plate, but with a pro-Kent State crowd standing, applauding and urging him on, Pierce battled all the way back to force the count full, then struck out Turgeon on a check swing for a huge second out. Pierce closed out his third save of the season and eliminated Florida by getting freshman left fielder Justin Shafer to fly out to right for the final out of the game.
"It wasn't the prettiest thing in the end," said Stricklin. "It was gut wrenching no matter who you were rooting for. Even if you weren't rooting for anybody, that was tough to watch, but we found a way. That's what this team has done all year long, and we're still here. We're still in Omaha and proud to be here."
Ranked No. 8 in the country according to the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper, the Golden Flashes (47-19) picked up their first win in the College World Series in program history and rebounded from an 8-1 loss to No. 6 Arkansas last Saturday (June 16) in their CWS opener. Kent State will battle No. 2 South Carolina - the two-time defending national champions - Wednesday (June 20) at 8 p.m. ET (7 p.m. CT) in another elimination game. South Carolina fell to Arkansas, 6-1, in the Bracket 2 winner's bracket final following Kent State's win over Florida Monday night. The contest will be nationally televised on ESPN, with Mike Patrick, Orel Hershiser and Jessica Mendoza on the call.
Kent State, which has posted a school-record 47 victories, picked up its 11th one-run win of the 2012 season and sixth of that variety in the last eight games. With Monday's win over top-ranked Florida (47-20), the Flashes are now 7-3 against ranked opponents this season.
Four Flashes produced multi-hit games as Kent State collected 12 hits to mark the 40th time this season the Flashes have tallied 10 or more hits in a game. Senior catcher David Lyon (Emporium, Pa.) led the charge with a triple, two singles and an RBI. Senior shortstop Jimmy Rider (Venetia Pa.) – the MAC's all-time hits leader with 353 – added a double and two singles for his team-leading 32nd multi-hit game of the season. He also extended his single-season records for hits (106) and doubles (30). Junior first baseman and Louisville Slugger Second Team All-America pick George Roberts (Summerhill, Pa.) – the 2012 MAC Player of the Year - went 2-for-4 with two RBIs and tallied his 31st multi-hit game of the year.
No player provided a bigger lift for Kent State, though, than junior designated hitter Jason Bagoly (Austintown, Ohio). Playing in his first game since the passing of his mother, Cheryl McHenry, last Thursday evening, Bagoly went 2-for-3 and scored a run while providing an emotional lift for the Golden Flashes with his display of courage.
"This has been a difficult few days for our program," said Stricklin. "I can't even imagine what it's been like for Jason. I think he needed that. I think his family needed that. I'm just really proud that he's on our team."
After falling behind early in Saturday's loss to Arkansas, Kent State landed the first punch against the Gators, as Rider reached on a throwing error by Florida junior shortstop Nolan Fontana, advanced to third on a single to center by Lyon and scored on a base hit to right by Roberts.
Kent State tacked on three more in the second to take a 4-0 advantage. Bagoly got things started by shooting a single back up the middle. Freshman left fielder Alex Miklos (Grove City, Pa.) reached when his sacrifice bunt attempt proved to be too tough for Florida freshman third baseman Josh Tobias to handle. Sophomore second baseman Derek Toadvine (Springfield, Ohio) moved both Bagoly into Miklos into scoring position by laying down a sacrifice bunt, and Rider capitalized one out later by plating Bagoly with a knubber back to third base. Lyon followed with a single to center to score Miklos, and Roberts drove home Rider with a base hit up the middle.
Florida got on the scoreboard in the top of the third after Tobias was hit by a pitch to lead off the frame, moved to second one out later on a walk by Fontana and scored courtesy of a two-out base hit back up the middle by Zunino.
Kent State got the run back in the fourth when Rider laced a one-out double to left, moved to second on a wild pitch by Florida sophomore right-handed relief pitcher Jonathon Crawford and scored on another wild pitch by Crawford to make it a 5-1 ballgame.
The Gators answered with a second run in the top of the sixth when Pigott hit a one-out single through the left side and scored one out later on a double to right center by Shafer to cut Kent State's lead to three runs.
Bores exited the game after six innings of work and a three-run lead to his credit, but Florida cut Kent State's edge to one run in the top of the seventh. The Gators loaded the bases after freshman first baseman Taylor Gushue drew a walk and Fontana and Tucker hit back-to-back singles. Zunino drove home Gushue with a single to center. The Flashes got junior designated hitter Brian Johnson to ground into a 4-6-3 double play, but Fontana was able to score to cut Kent State's lead to 5-4. Kent State called upon junior right-handed reliever Casey Wilson (Sagamore Hills, Ohio) to get them out of the inning, and Wilson delivered by getting Pigott to line out to second.
Florida attempted to put together rallies in the eighth and ninth, but Clark and Pierce were able to extinguish the threats to seal the biggest victory in Kent State history and allow the Golden Flashes to live to play another day.
"To be honest, this was the first time I've ever been nervous pitching," said Pierce. "I never got nervous. I did today, but I had to come out and clear my mind. It was fine. Nothing new."
Bores picked up the pitching victory, improving to 10-3 on the season.
"I went out there and tried to throw strikes," said Bores. "I know how good of a defense we have behind me, so I was trying to throw strikes and let them make plays. I went out there and threw pitches and hoped to keep it on the ground."
Florida junior right-handed starting pitcher Hudson Randall was tagged with the loss, falling to 9-3 on the season. He allowed one run on two hits in one inning of work.
Brought to you by Hall Green Agency official sponsor of Kent State's College World Series Journey