OMAHA, Neb.: On Saturday night, Kent State baseball coach Scott Stricklin vowed to get junior catcher Jason Bagoly an at-bat in the College World Series Monday against Florida.
Bagoly’s mother, Cheryl McHenry, died unexpectedly Thursday evening. The Austintown Fitch product elected to stay with the Golden Flashes during their first CWS appearance Saturday.
Facing elimination against the Gators, Stricklin inserted Bagoly into the starting lineup Monday at designated hitter, batting him seventh.
Bagoly responded with a leadoff single in the second inning and scored KSU’s first run. In the seventh, Bagoly doubled to the base of the wall in left center and was lifted for a pinch runner. Bagoly went 2-for-3 as the Golden Flashes stunned top-ranked Florida 5-4 at TD Ameritrade Park.
With his mother’s funeral today, Bagoly will fly home this morning, Stricklin said.
Stricklin had to pause, nearly tearing up, before answering a question about Bagoly after the game.
“This has been a very difficult few days for our program. I can’t imagine what it’s been like for Jason,” Stricklin said. “I was really disappointed in myself I didn’t give him an at-bat on Saturday.
“We talked about it as a staff and went back and forth. You think about the ramifications if he has a bad game, if he goes out there and plays and things go wrong. That shows what kind of kid he is and how tough he is. That gave our team a lift, that first at-bat, to battle like he did. It was unbelievable. I think he needed that; I think his family needed that. I’m really proud that he’s on our team.”
It marked Bagoly’s first NCAA action in seven tournament games, including a 21-inning marathon victory over Kentucky. For the season, Bagoly came into the game batting .264 with eight doubles and three home runs in 33 games, 24 starts. He had struck out 21 times in 91 at-bats.
Bagoly replaced redshirt junior Nick Hamilton, who had struck out 11 times in 29 NCAA at-bats and was hitting .172.
“Jason is a fighter. He’s a real strong kid and he knows our whole team is behind him,” catcher David Lyon said. “We’re part of his family and he knows that.”
The temperature at first pitch was 95 degrees with 39 percent humidity and a heat index of 98 degrees. It was the warmest CWS game since June 11, 2001. Wind from the southwest was measured at 17 mph, with gusts to 31.
Florida starter Hudson Randall lasted just one inning, with trainers summoned to the mound before the inning ended. Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said Randall was “overheated,” and replaced him with Jonathan Crawford.
“He looked fine before the game,” O’Sullivan said. “[Randall] went out there and he obviously was having a little trouble breathing.
“After the inning, I asked him point blank in the dugout if he felt he could go back out there. He looked me in the eye and told me he wasn’t ready to go back out.”
Stricklin said leadoff hitter Evan Campbell told him Randall wasn’t throwing very hard after his first inning at-bat.
O’Sullivan said Randall’s departure “changed the whole complexion of the game.”
Going into Monday’s game, senior shortstop Jimmy Rider had been Kent State’s NCAA star. Besides his sterling defense, Rider boasted a team-high .371 batting average in tournament play, including the game-winning hit in the super regional final against Oregon and a home run against Arkansas in the CWS.
Against the Gators Monday, Rider went 2-for-5 with an RBI and three runs scored. He’s now batting .363.
Earlier this month, Rider was drafted in the 26th round by the Pittsburgh Pirates, which thrilled the resident of Venetia, Pa.
Asked why he wasn’t drafted higher, Stricklin said, “He’s 5-foot-9, 160. It’s the eye test. But every scout I spoke to, I said, ‘If you draft this guy, at some point, your bosses are going to pay you a compliment.’ Nobody recruited him. He’s been overlooked a lot. I wouldn’t be shocked if he’s in the big leagues.”
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