Kent State-Kentucky go 21 innings, delaying VU-Purdue start for hours
By Mike Clark Post-Tribune correspondent June 1, 2012 11:48PM
Valparaiso players run in the outfield as the field is prepared for the start of the second NCAA Tournament game at the Steel Yard in Gary Friday night June 1, 2012. Kent State beat Kentucky 7-6 in 21 innings in the first game pushing the second game start time to 10:40pm. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 6, 2012 11:16AM
GARY — The first NCAA baseball regional game played in Northwest Indiana won’t be forgotten anytime soon.
While players and fans from Valparaiso and Purdue cooled their heels for hours after their game’s scheduled start, Kent State and Kentucky played a game for the ages at U.S. Steel Yard.
Kent State let four leads slip away but not a fifth, pushing across a run in the top of the 21st inning and then holding on for a 7-6 win. The game’s announced attendance was 796, but by the time it ended there were more than 5,000 fans jamming the seating area and concourse.
Even after it ended after 6 hours, 37 minutes, the players couldn’t quite believe it was over.
“There was a little bit of talk around the 19th inning, ‘This is something. We’re going to tell this story to our grandchildren,’” said winning pitcher Michael Clark (3-4).
“This has to go down as the best baseball game in NCAA history,” said Kent State coach Scott Stricklin, whose team has the nation’s longest winning streak at 18 games.
Kent State (42-17), which plays the Purdue/Valparaiso winner at 7 tonight in the winners’ bracket final, led 1-0, 4-2 and 5-4 in regulation. But each time Kentucky (43-17) rallied, tying it at 5 in the bottom of the ninth on Luke Maile’s RBI single.
Neither team scored again until the top of the 18th, when Joe Koch singled home Evan Campbell. But again the Wildcats rallied.
Michael Williams doubled to deep center to score Paul McConkey, and A.J. Reed also tried to score from first on the hit. But Reed, who pitched the final nine innings for Kentucky, cramped up rounding third and was thrown out at the plate.
“Off the bat, I thought it was over (the center fielder’s) head,” Reed said. “But there have been a couple balls hit that just died out there. ... I didn’t want to get doubled off (so) I waited a bit till I saw it was down.”
The Golden Flashes finally went ahead for good when Alex Miklos tripled home Koch. Then Clark got out of a two-on, one-out jam with a groundout and a strikeout, capping a 3 2/3-inning scoreless stint.
“All I remember is the last hitter,” Clark said. “It was 0-2, I was looking for a slider (call). I had a slider grip ready to go. (The catcher) threw down a fastball (sign). He pointed to his head, which means, ‘0 and 2, be smart.’
“I wanted to go up and away, I threw it as hard as I could.”
Thomas McCarthy tried to check his swing but couldn’t and finally, the game was over.
George Roberts was 5-for-10 with two RBI for Kent State, while Jimmy Rider went 4-for-9. The Golden Flashes won despite striking out 26 times and leaving 20 runners on base.
Zac Zellers went 5-for-7 for Kentucky, which struck out 21 times and stranded 23 runners. The Wildcats play the Purdue/Valparaiso loser at 3 p.m. today.
Reed (5-3) took the loss despite allowing just seven hits and two runs in nine innings of relief. He struck out eight and walked two.