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NCAA Tournament: Kent State only needs 9 innings to beat UK a second time

The Kentucky Wildcats were eliminated by the Kent St Golden Flashes tonight by a score of 3-2 in Game 6 of the Gary, IN Regional. The Wildcats end their season at 45-18, a school record for wins in a season.

Congratulations to Kent State who move on to the Super Regionals where they will face Oregon next weekend. The Golden Flashes entered the tournament as one of the hottest teams in the nation having won 17 in a row. That high level of play continued as they will now take a 20 game streak into the 3 games series against the Ducks.

For the Cats this will be a loss every bit as difficult to swallow as the 21 inning affair between these two teams that kicked off the regional. The Wildcats got terrific pitching in knocking off Valparaiso and host Purdue to get to this point and freshman Chandler Shepherd was absolutely sensational needing only 72 pitches to get through the first 7 innings of the game; this after throwing 3 scoreless frames on Saturday. He was matched pitch for pitch through the first 7 frames by KSU starter Tyler Skulina.

All the scoring action occurred in the 8th inning. After dodging some trouble in the 7th, Shepherd allowed a lead-off single to Nick Hamilton who was then sacrificed to 2nd. Joe Koch walked and Derek Toadvine reached on a fielder's choice that left runners on the corners with 2 outs.

With lefty Evan Campbell due up, Gary Henderson brought in Alex Phillips, but unlike the previous game Alex was not able to get the Cats out of the inning as Campbell hit a controversial home run to right field to give KSU a 3-0 lead.

Kentucky struck back in the bottom half of the frame as JT Riddle led of with a single and Jeff Boehm got a pinch hit double to score him and close the gap to 3-1.

After a pitching and hitting change, AJ Reed lined a ball to deep right field for the first out and Austin Cousino followed with a solid single to put runners at the corners with only 1 out. Thomas McCarthy followed with a fly ball to center that scored Boehm, but the Cats would not get any closer as Luke Maile flew out to end the inning.

Casey Wilson finished the 8th and retired the Cats in order in the 9th to earn the save and send Kent State to the next round of the tournament.

I think it was a mistake to allow Shepherd to start the 8th inning. By the end of the 7th the Kent State hitters were putting strong swings on his pitches and even with the bottom of the order coming up, I thought the best move was to bring in a fresh arm before things got out of hand. But there is no question that Gary Henderson pulled all the right strings in getting his pitching staff to this point in as good of shape as could be hoped. I thought he did a very good job coaching during the regional - in baseball more than any other sport the best a manager can do is put players in the best position to succeed and Henderson did that repeatedly this weekend.

There were a lot of outstanding performances in this regional, but a few in particular stand out to me:

  • Michael Williams caught all 48 innings of the regional for the Cats and still delivered some big hits at the plate. "Iron Man" isn't a good enough descriptor - Williams was the Iron Giant.
  • AJ Reed pitched 9 superb innings in the first game against Kent State that gave the rest of Kentucky's pen a chance to be effective in the remaining games.
  • Zach Zellers had a terrific regional and the Cats will get a big boost if he returns for his Senior season.
  • Chandler Shepherd was sensational, pitching 3 innings Saturday and 7.2 today. He will be hung with the loss, but he gave the Cats everything they could have possible asked for and more today.

Despite the disappointing finish, it has been a terrific season by the BatCats. There will be some losses to the roster as always, but the core of this team is still very young and they have a promising future ahead of them. This is a team that deserves more attention and I hope we will be able to provide it here at At Sea of Blue.

On one other note, the loss takes away the last chance for Kentucky to pass UNC in the Capital One Cup standings, a disappointment after an outstanding season by the athletic department and a missed opportunity after North Carolina was eliminated by St. John's earlier today.

Thanks to everyone who hung out in the game threads! The countdown now begins to football season and the rest of the fall sports season.