Kent State beats Oregon 7-6 in series opener
EUGENE, Ore. (AP) -- Kent State center fielder Evan Campbell said it could have gone either way.
The Golden Flashes were clinging to a narrow lead in the bottom of the ninth in the opening game of their NCAA super regional against Oregon on Saturday night. With the bases loaded and two outs, J.J. Altobelli of the Ducks hit the ball to deep center.
"As I was running, it kept going and kept carrying," Campbell said. "It was close."
But Campbell made the diving catch and Kent State extended the nation's longest winning streak to 21 games with a 7-6 victory.
"I hit it as good as I could," Altobelli said. "(Campbell) just made a good play on it."
Left-hander David Starn scattered four runs and five hits over 6 1-3 innings for the Golden Flashes (45-17), who are making their first-ever appearance in a super regional.
Oregon, the No. 5 national seed, rallied with two runs in the bottom of the ninth but couldn't overcome earlier mistakes. They had three costly errors and stranded 12 runners on base.
Senior Alex Keudell allowed two earned runs and nine hits over 7 1-3 innings for the Ducks (45-18).
The winner of the best-of-three series advances to the College World Series starting Friday in Omaha, Neb.
"I was hoping that we'd have Monday off on a positive note, but we don't," Oregon coach George Horton said.
Oregon is making its second trip to the postseason since it reinstated baseball in 2009 after a 26-year hiatus. The Ducks advanced out of their double-elimination regional for the first time since 1954, when the team made its lone trip to the College World Series.
The Golden Flashes went up 2-0 in the third inning. Campbell doubled with two outs and scored on Jimmy Rider's single to left. Rider scored when Keudell misplayed David Lyon's bunt.
Rider's RBI single was his 100th hit this season, breaking the Kent State season record of 99 held by John VanBenschoten (2001) and Anthony Gallas (2010).
The Ducks narrowed it in the bottom half when Altobelli scored on Ryon Healey's grounder.
Kent State added a run in the fourth when Sawyer Polen's one-out single scored T.J. Sutton, who led off the inning with a double.
Starn walked three to load the bases with two outs in the fourth, and it appeared that he hit Aaron Payne to bring in an Oregon run. But the home plate umpire ruled that Payne didn't get out of the way, and Starn struck him out to end the threat.
The Golden Flashes padded their lead in the fifth on Rider's RBI double and Sutton's sacrifice fly, before Kyle Garlick's sacrifice fly in the bottom half for Oregon narrowed it to 5-2.
Altobelli's RBI double in the sixth got the Ducks closer and Brett Thomas added a run-scoring single to left to make it 5-4 in the seventh.
The Golden Flashes added two runs in the eighth when Alex Miklos' shot to right was misplayed by outfielder Aaron Jones, scoring Polen and Sutton.
Trailing 7-4, Oregon nearly pulled off the comeback in the bottom of the ninth.
Kent State's Brian Clark loaded the bases with no outs before he was pulled in favor of Josh Pierce, who struck out Garlick. Ryan Hambright's sacrifice fly to left scored Jones and Pierce walked Brett Hambright to re-load the bases.
Pinch-hitter Andre Mendenhall walked to narrow it to 7-6, but Altobelli's fly ball to center was snagged by a diving Campbell to end it.
"It was a sloppy game, I think both sides would agree to that," Kent State coach Scott Stricklin said. "But to win 21 straight you must be doing something right."
The Golden Flashes, winners of the Mid-American Conference title for the past four years, have advanced to the postseason 12 times, but never past the regionals.
In 1954, Oregon hosted the NCAA Western Regionals at Howe Field and faced Seattle and Fresno State twice to move on to the College World Series.