LOUISVILLE, Ky.: There was no magic for the Kent State baseball team Saturday afternoon.
Kentucky rallied to score four runs in the top of the ninth inning to beat Kent State 4-2 and knock the Golden Flashes out of the NCAA regional tournament.
Flashes starter Nick Jensen-Clagg (5-2, 4.76 ERA) retired 25 of 30 batters, giving up five hits and two earned runs in 8⅓ innings against the Wildcats (36-24). He cruised until the final inning.
“Nick was outstanding all game,” KSU coach Jeff Duncan said. “It’s a tough way to lose a game at the end of the game, especially the way Nick performed today.”
But Jensen-Clagg ran into trouble in the ninth. He got first batter Austin Cousino to fly to left, but next batter Max Kuhn singled to put a runner on base.
That brought Wildcats starting pitcher A.J. Reed (12-2, 2.09 ERA) up to bat. Reed, the 2014 National Player of the Year, is a double threat on the mound and at the plate, but he had been hitting only 3-for-18 in the postseason.
Playing pest at first base, Kuhn got Jensen-Clagg to balk, which moved Kuhn to second base. Reed then ripped a double to right to score Kuhn.
Duncan went to the bullpen for John Fasola to close out the game.
When asked if he had enough to finish the game, Jensen-Clagg replied. “I probably could have. You leave it up to the coaches. It’s their decision.”
Fasola struck out the Wildcats’ Ka’ai Tom, but walked the next two batters to load the bases.
Jensen-Clagg watched from the dugout.
“It’s definitely a nerve-wracking one,” he said. “I couldn’t quit moving or couldn’t sit down or anything. I just kept pacing. I had all my trust in them. It just sometimes doesn’t go your way.”
In this case, it certainly didn’t.
Kentucky first baseman Thomas Bernal blooped a double into left, scoring two and giving the Wildcats their first lead of the game at 3-2. The Wildcats’ Matt Reida ended the scoring with an RBI single. Reed pitched the ninth for the complete game.
Duncan offered no criticism of his team.
After Friday night’s loss to top-seeded Louisville in a rain-delayed game that ended well after midnight, Kent State found itself in the unenviable position of having to get ready for a 1 p.m. start.
They didn’t even eat dinner until 1:30 a.m. the night before, Duncan said.
“I thought we did a really good job of bouncing back, putting up a two spot on A.J. Reed, who is arguably the best baseball player in the country,” he said. “We did a good job. We brought great attitude and effort to this game.”
He couldn’t quibble with the way that the Flashes started.
Kent State got to Reed early for two runs in the first inning, playing aggressive small ball, something that he said they’d do against the second-seeded Wildcats.
After the game, however, Duncan looked more to the future with a team that has only five seniors on its roster.
“Moving forward with these younger guys,” he said. “I think this is a great experience for us and a building block to get back to this type of setting next year.”
George M. Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Zips blog at www.ohio.com/zips. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/abj.sports.