Last year Evan Campbell probably never would have dreamed his prowess in the center field would make SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays.
Playing infield through his freshman year at Kent State, Campbell was sent into summer ball before his sophomore season with instructions from Golden Flashes coach Scott Stricklin to spend some time in the outfield.
When he returned, the product of West Branch High School in Beloit, Ohio, found himself starting in center.
“Last year it was a little bit rough at the beginning, reading balls and chasing them,” Campbell said after the Golden Flashes’ practice Tuesday at the College World Series. “This year it felt pretty natural.”
That’s been evident during Kent State’s NCAA run. Making its first appearance in Omaha, KSU (47-19) was scheduled to face two-time defending champion South Carolina (46-18) in an elimination game Wednesday night at TD Ameritrade Park. The 8 p.m. start was delayed by heavy rain.
The biggest victory in Kent State baseball history, a 5-4 triumph over top-ranked Florida Monday that sent the Gators home, included a spectacular play by Campbell that drew national recognition.
In the sixth inning, the junior ran down a ball off the bat of clean-up hitter Brian Johnson and made a diving catch. His effort was No. 2 on ESPN’s list of Top 10 plays.
“I just took off and I knew the wind was carrying it. I tried to get there. I laid out for it and got it,” Campbell said.
When Stricklin got back to the team hotel, he and his wife flipped on the television to watch ESPN.
“When it came on at No. 9 I’m like, ‘Here’s Evan’ and it was T.J.,” said Stricklin, referring to T.J. Sutton’s game-ending catch in right field. “So we were counting it down; we were in the top five…. The No. 2 play is not too bad.”
Campbell also made the top 10 on June 9 after an NCAA super regional game against Oregon. He saved a 7-6 victory despite a two-out, bases loaded jam with a turning, leaping catch in deep center.
After that one, Stricklin jokingly accused Campbell of hot-dogging.
“I don’t know about that,” Campbell said. “I was a little worried. I was just glad to hold onto it. I knew if I drop it the game’s over.”
When a member of the media suggested to Campbell that he’s been on as many highlight lists as the Heat’s LeBron James, Campbell said, “That’s fine with me. I’m not a LeBron fan. Used to be.”
The Golden Flashes might have come to expect an extraordinary defensive gem from Campbell every night.
“I wouldn’t go that far,” he said. “This team is funny. Things always happen and it seems almost routine for something weird to happen like that. It’s pretty awesome.”
Campbell has also been a big part of the Golden Flashes’ offensive attack, ranking fourth on the team with a .316 batting average with seven home runs and 40 RBI. But in KSU’s eight NCAA games, Campbell is hitting just .132.