EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — Jimmy Rider drove in the winning run with a shallow pop fly that landed just inside the left-field foul line in the bottom of the ninth, lifting Kent State to a 3-2 win over Oregon on Monday night and sending the Golden Flashes to their first College World Series.
Rider’s hit off Oregon closer Jimmie Sherfy fell just out of the reach of shortstop J.J. Altobelli and left fielder Brett Thomas, who appeared to lose track of the ball when it was hit.
Derek Toadvine scored from second base before Thomas could attempt a throw, making Kent State (46-18) the first team from the Mid-American Conference since Eastern Michigan in 1976 to advance past the NCAA super regional for a trip to Omaha.
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“It’s really hard to find words to describe what this means for Kent State and the Mid-American Conference to make it to the College World Series,” Kent State coach Scott Stricklin. “I’m just overcome.”
Oregon was trying to end an even longer drought, just missing its first CWS appearance since 1954.
“J.J. and I both gave it our all,” Thomas said of Rider’s fair ball. “Bet he couldn’t hit that same spot if we gave him 100 tries.”
The play happened so quickly that most of the Ducks remained at their positions on the field as the Kent State dugout and bullpen emptied to join a pile of players near home plate.
“Everyone was just in shock,” Rider said. “When the ball first went into the air, I’m sure everyone thought it was an out, but when it landed, we just went crazy.”
The super regional series featured three one-run games, with the Golden Flashes winning 7-6 on Saturday and the Ducks rallying for three runs in the seventh of a 3-2 victory Sunday to extend the series.
A similar situation seemed to be unfolding Monday.
Trailing 2-0, the Ducks (46-19) tied it in the eighth inning on a single through a hole in the right side of the infield by Ryon Healy that scored Altobelli and Aaron Payne.
Healy’s hit was just the fourth — and last — hit of the game for Oregon.
“It felt like Sunday night all over again,” Stricklin said. “You just hope you can get through it.”
Reliever Brian Clark made sure they did, recording five straight outs for the win after allowing Healy’s single.
“We’re devastated,” said Oregon coach George Horton, who had the Ducks on the edge of a College World Series berth just four years after the program returned from a 26-year hiatus.
Kent State went ahead early, scoring two runs on six hits against Oregon starter Jeff Gold, who didn’t make it out of the second inning.
The Golden Flashes scored once in the first on a lined single by T.J. Sutton and then again in the second on a bases-loaded double-play grounder by Evan Campbell.
Kent State was shut down by the Ducks’ bullpen the rest of the game, getting just one more hit off four relievers.
But Oregon could never get to Kent State starter Tyler Skulina, a 6-foot-6 right-hander who allowed just a pair of singles in his 5 2-3 innings.