Following Thursday night’s 17-inning marathon, neither Kent State nor Akron came out on Friday with as much energy as one would expect in virtually a must-win game for what each team is trying to accomplish.
The Golden Flashes (33-21, 19-7) were still in the running for the No. 1 seed in next week’s Mid-American Conference Tournament but needed some help from Buffalo (19-6 in the MAC) no matter what. The Zips (15-36, 10-15) were just trying to make the tournament altogether and were hanging on by a thread. Not to mention it’s a rivalry game with the PNC Wagon Wheel Challenge (points are given across all 15 sports) on the line.
The Flashes delivered the Zips a blow on Friday. KSU starting pitcher Tyler Skulina held off UA just enough to deliver a 4-3 win and clinch the Wagon Wheel Challenge. As it later turned out, thanks to Eastern Michigan’s win over Toledo a few hours afterward, it was the deciding blow in ending the Zips’ chances of postseason play.
In the bottom of the ninth, the Zips had Jared Turocy on second base with one out and KSU relief pitcher Dan Kopcak on the mound. The Zips never got the ball out of the infield.
“We had a man on second base and it just didn’t seem like we had the giddy-up to get him in,” UA coach Rick Rembielak said.
Not having the “giddy-up” was the recurring theme on Friday. The lead changed hands more than once and each team had chances to score more runs than they did. Even with the excitement of the tournament situations and the game itself, both coaches could feel there was some energy missing from their respective dugouts.
“We didn’t have the energy you’d like to have but it’s kind of understandable after what we went through last night,” KSU coach Scott Stricklin said. “We tried to talk about last year and reflect back when we played our game with Kentucky and played 21 innings. You can argue our best game of the year was the next day. … Today, we were flat. Again, you can understand what we went through last night.”
Losing the game, then, was much tougher.
“I know they [the Zips players] were down yesterday after the game — you don’t want to lose a marathon game like that,” Rembielak said. “That’s a tough one to lose. You keep battling and battling and you come up short.”
With both teams beaten down from Thursday night, it was Skulina’s performance on the mound that separated the two on Friday. He delivered one of his best performances for the Golden Flashes, striking out a career-high 11 in eight strong innings. The Zips came away with only four hits and scored all three runs after trailing KSU 1-0 in the fourth inning to take a 3-1 lead.
The Golden Flashes got one of those runs back in the top of the sixth on Alex Miklos’ team-leading fourth home run of the year. Later, a single and a walk, all with two outs, put runners on first and second for second baseman Derek Toadvine, who delivered a game-tying single down the left-field line.
Tied 3-3 into the eighth inning, another extra-innings game was looking possible. Then bad bunting turned out to be a blessing.
T.J. Sutton opened the eighth with a single and was taken out for Troy Summers at first. Cody Koch came in as a pinch-hitter with the sole purpose of bunting him over but was unsuccessful twice and had to swing away. Koch proceeded to blast a double off the base of the wall in center field, putting the go-ahead run 90 feet away. A few pitches later Justin Wagler drove a fly ball to right field deep enough to bring Summers home with the deciding run.
To win the MAC East regular-season title, KSU is in a must-win situation on Saturday against Akron and needs Buffalo to lose to Bowling Green.
Ryan Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the high school blog at http://www.ohio.com/preps. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/RyanLewisABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.