GARY, Ind. (AP) — Kent State is heading to the super regionals for the first time in school history — but not without some controversy.
Evan Campbell blasted a disputed three-run homer in the eighth inning of Kent State’s 3-2 victory over Kentucky. The ball cleared the right-field wall of the U.S. Steel Yard, but not a yellow line above a chain link fence that sits atop the wall.
Video shot by WKYT-TV’s Brian Milam clearly showed the ball didn’t clear the chain link fence, and assistant crew chief Travis Katzenmeier said after the game that the ball wouldn’t be ruled a home run “if it didn’t hit anything beyond the fence.” The ball hit the chain link fence, fell to the top of the concrete wall and then bounced back into the field of play.
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The umpires didn’t discuss the play after first-base umpire Ken Durham signaled the home run, and Kentucky coach Gary Henderson didn’t argue the call at the time. But Henderson began his postgame press conference by asking Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart: “What can I say about the umpires?”
“I didn’t have a clear vision, but my thought was that he couldn’t miss it,” Henderson said. “My initial thought was that he couldn’t have missed three calls. The law of averages is staggering for that to happen. I should’ve been up there (talking to the umpires).”
Henderson was clearly frustrated by two calls from Durham earlier in the game that involved close plays at first base, both of which went against the Wildcats.
The victory extended Kent State’s winning streak to 20 games, the longest active streak in the NCAA, but the controversy overshadowed the anticipated rematch from Friday night’s 21-inning affair as well as the Golden Flashes’ first NCAA regional title in school history.
The Golden Flashes (44-17) reached the Austin Regional final last season, but lost two consecutive games to Texas.
The feeling on Sunday night was in stark contrast to what Kent State experienced last season.
“This goes down as the biggest win in Kent State history,” coach Scott Stricklin said. “We’re taking the next step and it’s what we talked about 365 days ago after we lost in Austin. We’ve exceeded our expectations. It’s an unbelievable feeling. I can’t describe how proud I am.”
Campbell’s home run was the first in more than 64 innings at the Steel Yard and it was the first big offensive play in a game that was surprisingly dominated by starting pitching. Both teams were cautious throughout the weekend with their pitchers after playing the 21-inning marathon Friday night, but starters Tyler Skulina (Kent State) and Chandler Shepherd (Kentucky) didn’t allow a run through their first seven innings of work.
Kentucky reliever Alex Phillips entered the game after the Golden Flashes got two on in the eighth inning and Campbell blasted the first pitch he saw to the top of the right-field wall.
“I didn’t think it was gone when I first hit it,” Campbell said. “There were other balls that were hit further than that during this tournament that didn’t go out. I saw it bounce, but I didn’t see where it went.”
Kentucky right fielder Cameron Flynn watched the ball sail over his head and went to make a play on the ball when it came back onto the field.
“I thought it hit the guard rail and came back,” Flynn said. “I turned around to get the ball and the umpire called a home run. It bounced back, below the yellow line.”
The Wildcats (45-18) rallied to add two runs in the eighth inning, but fell short in their bid to continue the winningest season in program history.