The beautiful, wonderful thing about baseball is there is no clock. If you have a lead you cannot sit on the ball, run a four corners offense, or take a knee - you have to pitch and you have to throw strikes (usually). If you are behind, you always have a chance as long as you have an at-bat.
Congratulations to Kent State for a fine season and a great game. They got an outstanding start from Nate Jensen-Clagg and it was very nearly enough to win the game. Much like Gonzaga and Butler in basketball, the Golden Flashes are an excellent program from a small conference who have proven they are always dangerous in the tournament no matter how their overall season has gone. I would really like to see Gary Henderson schedule this team in the future for a weekend series, although the games should all start in the early afternoon, just to be safe.
A day after playing a game that took 3 hours and 14 minutes to play, but needed 6 hours to complete thanks to repeated delays, this contest was finished in a tidy 2:15. I was driving back to South Carolina from Kentucky, and when I finally got a chance to check the score for the first time it was already the 7th inning at around 2:30. Given the weather problems on Friday I thought the start time had been moved up an hour. But no, unlike yesterday's walk-fest both starters were on point, throwing strikes and letting their defense take care of the outs. Reed and Jensen-Clagg combined to throw 17.1 innings with 14 hits and 0 walks allowed while striking out just 7 batters. Of the 18 frames, 9 were completed 1-2-3 (with a double play thrown in for good measure).
The scoring can be summed up pretty easily. Kent State scored both runs in the bottom of the first with 4 straight singles that left runners on first and second with no one out and brought up unpleasant memories of Kyle Cody's struggles yesterday. Reed got out of the jam though: a sacrifice by T.J. Sutton moved the runners to second and third, but A.J. struck out Justin Wagler and induced a ground ball by Zach Beckner to end the inning with no further damage.
Kent State tried to add a run in the 7th when Wagler tried to score from second on a single to left by Olvey, but Ka'ia Tom made a perfect throw to home plate to nail Wagler by a good twelve feet.
Kentucky did all its damage in the 9th inning. Austin Cousino started the inning by flying out to left field, but then Max Kuhn singled, was balked to second, and brought home by a big double in the gap by A.J. Reed. Marcus Carson ran for Reed, which apparently brought some confusion as to whether A.J. could remain in the game to pitch. For the life of me I don't know why this was an issue, since DH and Pitcher are two different positions, even if they are held by the same player. Anyway, that brought an end to the day for Jensen-Clagg as he was replaced by John Fasola. He struck out Ka'ia Tom and the Wildcats were down to their last out, but Fasola and Kent State still needed to throw strikes to get it. This proved to be problematic as Fasola walked Thomas on 5 pitches and Storm Wilson came to the plate.
I can't say enough about the at-bat Storm put together. Here is a freshman, playing in the ninth inning of an elimination game, with his team down a run. He went down in the count 1-2, but fouled off some tough pitches and eventually worked a walk to load the bases.
Thomas Bernal was next in the kind of moment kids re-enact endlessly in the backyard every summer. Thomas took a 1-0 pitch into left field for a double, scoring Carson and Thomas and giving Kentucky their first lead of the regional, 3-2. Eric Dorsch relieved Fasola and relinquished a single to Matt Reida that scored Davis for an insurance run, though Bernal was easily thrown out at the plate trying to score from second to end the inning.
A.J. Reed set down Kent State in order to finish the game, with some help from a double play to erase a lead-off single.
Kentucky now faces the loser of Louisville- Kansas at Noon on Sunday. Currently the Cardinals are up 5-0 after 4 innings, so we are likely to see a UK-KU rematch. No word yet on who might start, though Kyle Cody is an obvious candidate. If Kentucky can win Sunday afternoon, they will play again the same day.
UPDATE: Kentucky will face Kansas after the Jayhawks fell to Louisville 6-3.