The team with 27 Ohio natives on its roster that’s crashed a traditionally Southern party at the College World Series has done so thanks to multiple heroes.
Evan Campbell’s name keeps popping up on that list.
Kent State’s junior center fielder extended the game with an 18th inning relay throw in a 21-inning win over Kentucky in the Flashes’ NCAA Tournament opener, hit a three-run home run to beat Kentucky two nights later and made a diving catch to save the game — and this improbable run to Omaha — in the bottom of the ninth inning in the first game of the Super Regionals last weekend at Oregon.
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Campbell, a former infielder who also shows his speed as Kent State’s leadoff hitter, downplays his role as Captain Clutch. But he isn’t afraid to say he believes he has a little help from a friend.
Campbell wears No. 14 in honor of Jake Scott, his childhood friend who died in a car accident on Jan. 29, 2007.
He said Jake Scott was “my neighbor and my best friend. I think about him often.”
Jake Scott and Evan Campbell grew up in the same neighborhood in Beloit, Ohio. Jake, who was a year older, spent one year of high school at West Branch before transferring to nearby Sebring. Evan went on to be a multi-sport star at West Branch, just as he was in the neighborhood games for years.
Evan Campbell’s older brother, Matt, was a year younger than Jake’s older brother, Josh. The four of them grew up together, always competing, always participating in a game or contest of some sort.
“Backyard baseball, video games, every sport,” Evan Campbell said. “It was all day.”
Said Josh Scott: “Competitive relationships. Incredible bonds. There was a little baseball field basically right next to where the Campbells lived, and we spent hours there. Jake and Evan became basketball buddies over hours and hours, years and years.”
The No. 14 — Jake Scott’s high school basketball jersey number — has held special significance to the Scotts since the accident. Josh Scott said his parents, Mike and Barb, are “beaming” that Evan is wearing it now.
“Jake was a great athlete and he was just a very nice person, very easy to like,” Evan Campbell said. “But he was also a competitor — a fierce, fierce competitor. He hated losing at anything. I know he’d get a kick out of seeing No. 14 in these big games, especially on this stage.
“To me, that’s the best part.”
Campbell said he doesn’t speak with the Scott family as much as he’d like to “just because I’m not home very often. But we’ve had a busy month for good reasons. It really means a lot to me to know that everybody is pulling for me and has enjoyed this ride as much as we have.”
The village of Beloit — population just over 1,000 — is 30 miles southeast of Kent and about the same distance southwest of Youngstown. Josh Scott said it’s a place that’s gone crazy for Kent State’s College World Series run and the heroics of one its own.
“It’s just so cool to flip on the TV and see Evan out there,” Josh Scott said. “You see him introduced as No. 14, and that’s awesome. But just to see ‘Beloit, Ohio’ on the screen when he comes to bat and to think that a kid we all know is living his dream, we’re all thrilled.”
Josh Scott said a high school classmate of Jake’s started the “Remember Jake Scott” Facebook page, and he said having a forum that keeps Jake’s memory alive has been “very therapeutic for my parents.” He said it’s been an extension of the support the family has received from the West Branch and Sebring communities since the accident, including the Campbell family’s participation in the annual Jake Scott Memorial Golf Outing.
“Before Evan was born, his parents lost a son in a car accident,” Josh Scott said. “So in addition to being great friends to my parents, they’re members of that club nobody wants to be in. I can’t even begin to say how much (John and Dorothy) Campbell meant to our family in trying to get through Jake’s death.
“It’s really hard to put into words what it means for us to watch Evan now and know that Jake impacted him. To think that he’s thinking about him as he goes through this incredible time, it absolutely means everything to us.”
On the Jake Scott Facebook page on June 3, Mike Scott wrote, “Jake, continue to be with Evan.”
That night, Campbell’s three-run home run in the eighth inning was enough to push Kent State to a 3-2 win over Kentucky, a victory that sent the Flashes through to the Super Regionals for the first time in school history. That TV replays showed the ball clearly was not a home run — although the first base umpire’s call stood — is just another example of the charmed run the Flashes have put together.
That run continues Saturday afternoon when they play Arkansas at TD AmeriTrade Park.
Playing center field and leading off, as usual, will be Evan Campbell, center fielder from Beloit, Ohio.
“I can’t say for certain that Evan has somebody watching over him,” Josh Scott said. “But with all that’s happened, you really wonder.”