It took 14 innings between scores, but the Kent State baseball team finally broke a 4-4 tie in the top of the 17th inning for a 5-4 Mid-American Conference win over the University of Akron, thanks to some daring base running late Thursday night at Canal Park.
Neither the Golden Flashes nor the Zips was able to push a run across home plate since the third inning of the seventh annual Diamond Classic for Kids at Canal Park. But with the game 4½ hours old, the Flashes began their rally against Zips reliever Matt LaRocca (who started the game at third base) when second baseman Derek Toadvine walked to lead off the 17th inning.
Toadvine then went from first to third base on a sacrifice bunt by shortstop Sawyer Polen, reaching third base safely just ahead of the throw. Toadvine scored the winning run on a sacrifice fly by center fielder Evan Campbell.
KSU right-hander Dan Kopcak came on in the bottom of the 17th and allowed a hit before retiring the Zips with the aid of a game-ending double play.
Plenty of major-league scouts were in attendance at the start, each one with a radar gun trained on Kent State starting pitcher Taylor Williams.
Most of the scouts were gone and so was Williams as the game went deep into the night.
Trailing 4-0, UA rallied for a four-run third inning and then the teams matched each other zero for zero until KSU broke through just before 11 p.m.
Williams was solid, except for the rough third inning, giving up four runs on seven hits in seven innings. He walked just one batter and struck out nine and was removed after 95 pitches with the Mid-American Conference Tournament next week.
The Golden Flashes (32-21, 18-7 MAC) staked Williams to a lead in the first inning without the aid of a hit. Toadvine led off with a walk, stole second base, advanced to third base on a passed ball and scored on first baseman George Robert’s sacrifice fly to right field.
In the third inning, Campbell smashed a two-run triple to deep center field, scoring Toadvine and Polen.
Before the inning was over, Roberts scored on an error to push the Flashes’ lead to 4-0.
The host Zips (15-35, 10-14) used a four-run third inning to erase the deficit and pull even. Williams’ temporary meltdown began with a lead-off walk to second baseman James Sheltrown.
After getting designated hitter Daulton Mosbarger out, Williams was battered by hits from the next five batters.
Zips shortstop Matt Rembielak doubled, center fielder Devan Ahart hit a run-scoring single and an infield hit by left fielder Jared Turocy put two men on base. LaRocca took advantage with a two-run double that tied the scored and right fielder Joey Havrilak singled.
After a visit to the mound by coach Scott Stricklin settled Williams down, he rebounded to get the next two batters out to escape further damage.
Williams retired the next eight batters he faced and pitched four more scoreless innings.
But the damage had been done, as the 4-4 tie could not be broken even as each team went deep into their respective bullpens.
Left-handed reliever Brian Clark took over for Williams and gave the Flashes 4⅔ scoreless innings before being relieved by 6-foot-7 right-hander Eric Dorsch.
“It’s awfully encouraging to see the way that, No. 1, our pitching reacted to those situations,” Stricklin said. “Those guys came up big time for us. Brian Clark, Eric Dorsch, Dan Kopcak in relief and then Taylor Williams had one bad inning, but other than that, he was really good.
“Then to go 17 innings and not make an error, not be close to making an error, I mean we were as clean defensively as you can be. So pitching and defense, we’ve said it before, it’s going to win championships and we won that game on that.”
Right-hander Jon Pusateri started for UA and tossed just three innings before giving way to the Zips’ bullpen that pitched 13 scoreless innings before allowing the game-winning run.