Jimmy Rider’s shallow pop fly off of Ducks reliever Jimmy Sherfy landed just in fair territory and knocked in Derek Toadvine with the winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning to seal the victory.
Initially, the hit looked like a routine fly ball to left field, but as Ducks left fielder Brett Thomas tracked the ball he lost sight of it in the sun. Shortstop J.J. Altobelli dove for the ball, but it landed in between the two fielders and Thomas’ throw to the plate was too late to get Toadvine.
“There’s some irony, for me anyway, in the fact that we lost a ball in the sun in Eugene and it ended our season,” said UO head coach George Horton.
The Flashes rushed the field, coming together near the giant Ducks logo behind home plate with a massive dog-pile, while Altobelli clutched his head in disappointment in left field. One day after their 21-game win streak was snapped, the Flashes became the first Mid-American Conference team to make it to Omaha since 1976.
“It’s really hard to find the words for what this means for Kent State and for the Mid-American Conference to go to the College World Series,” said Flashes head coach Scott Stricklin.
Thomas described the feeling as “unreal” as the play unfolded. The Ducks, who had relied on several one-run victories to get to their 46-win total – including Sunday night’s 3-2 victory over the Flashes – had finally met a team that was more resilient than them.
“It came down to they executed better than we did,” Horton said. “It’s a tough pill to swallow.”
The Ducks had trailed 2-0 for most of the ball game, unable to overcome 11-game winner Tyler Skulina, who gave up only two hits over 5 2/3 innings. Down to their last six outs, Oregon rallied on Ryon Healy’s two-run single with one out in the eighth inning off of reliever Brian Clark.
It was the only hit that Clark (5-0) allowed – and the last of the Ducks four – as he recorded five straight outs after that to keep them at bay. Sherfy (5-2) walked Toadvine to start the ninth and got an out before suffering an apparent elbow injury. Horton went to check on him, but Sherfy talked his way into staying in the game. Moments later the game, and season, were over.
“We are all going to walk out of here proud,” Healy said. “But none of us are satisfied.”
Kent State rocked Oregon starter Jeff Gold for two runs on six hits before Horton went to the bullpen with two outs in the second inning. T.J. Sutton’s RBI single plated Rider with two outs in the first inning to give the Flashes the first lead of the game for the third consecutive day.
Gold gave up three straight singles to start the second inning and Evan Campbell knocked in a run on as the Ducks turned a double play. He got the hook one out later.
“He wasn’t missing many barrels and I didn’t think he was a very good match up against this team when I woke up in the morning,” Horton said.
Returning right-hander Brando Tessar, who hadn’t pitched since Apr. 15 because of an injury, along with Joey Housey and Tommy Thorpe, started a bullpen effort that silenced the Flashes bats and didn’t give up a hit until the seventh inning.
After the Ducks tied the game in the eighth, Sherfy came on with one out in the bottom half and quickly registered two strikeouts that sent the PK Park crowd into a frenzy. The record 4,825 in attendance started a “Go Ducks” chant, and momentum seemed to be in the Ducks favor.
Instead, Kent State took advantage of playing as the home team after winning a coin toss before the series to ensure they would have the last at-bat in the event of a decisive Game 3.
“I thought the coin flip might have a bearing on it and I’ll doggone it if sometimes I hate to be right,” Horton said.
While the Flashes move on, the Ducks will have to wait until next season. Both Healy and Horton said that this was an example of baseball being a cruel game, and though the Ducks accomplished more than expected this season, it doesn’t make the loss any less excruciating.
Horton expressed that he couldn’t wait until September to start fall camp. He also said that despite having his moment in the sun in Omaha with Cal State Fullerton, he wants to do the same with UO.
“I’ll be back there, with a Ducks baseball team,” Horton said, adding, “We’re going to the College World Series, or it’s going to kill me.”
GAME NOTES –
Tessar threw 37 pitches in his return, 16 for strikes. He lasted 2 1/3 innings.
The Ducks left six men on base to the Flashes 10.
The Ducks were awarded six free passes (four walks, two hit-by-pitch), and only one of those base runners made it past second base.