Sun sets on Oregon Ducks' season
EUGENE - Game three of the Eugene super regional between Oregon and Kent State went into the bottom of the ninth inning tied 2-2.
Kent State second baseman Derek Toadvine led off with a walk against Ducks closer Jimmie Sherfy. Center fielder Evan Campbell moved Toadvine to second base with a sacrifice bunt.
On Sherfy's 1-1 pitch to Kent State shortstop Jimmy Rider, Sherfy tweaked something in his elbow.
Oregon coach George Horton went to the mound and seriously considered taking Sherfy out of the game.
'My instincts were to get him out of there right now,' Horton said. 'He talked me out of it.'
Rider worked the count full, then lofted a towering pop fly down the left-field line.
Oregon left fielder Brett Thomas lost the ball in the sun. Not being able to see the ball, he ran to where Ducks shortstop J.J. Altobelli was heading.
Thomas and Altobelli both dove for the ball, but neither could reach it. The pop-up fell just inside the line. Toadvine scored, Kent State won 3-2 and the Ducks' season was over.
'There's some irony for me that we lost the ball in the sun in Eugene and it ended our season,' Horton said.
For the Ducks (46-19), it was a brutal way to finish a very good season.
'Unreal,' Thomas said. 'I know we worked so hard for this.'
The season will continue for Kent State (46-18) with a trip to the college World Series.
Golden Flashes coach Scott Stricklin said that the win is significant not just for his ballclub but for the university, which is still largely known for the Kent State Massacre on May 4, 1970, when the Ohio National Guard fired on unarmed students protesting the American invasion of Cambodia. Four were killed; nine were wounded.
'May 4, 1970 is a big date at Kent State,' Stricklin said. 'Unfortunately, that's what a lot of people think of when they think of Kent State: 'That's where people got shot.' It's part of unfortunate history, but it is a part of our history. Hopefully, when people think of Kent State right now, they think of our baseball team.'
The winning hit spoiled the Ducks' two-run eighth-inning rally and their bid for another come-from-behind victory like the one Oregon pulled off with a three-run seventh inning and 3-2 win in Game two on Sunday night.
Facing Kent State reliever Brian Clark in game three, Altobelli started the Ducks' eighth-inning rally by lining a 1-0 pitch to center. Clark walked second baseman Aaron Payne to put runners on first and second.
Ducks right fielder Aaron Jones laid down a sacrifice bunt to move the runners to second and third.
First baseman Ryon Healy then sent a ground ball through an enormous hole between the first and second basemen. Altobelli and Payne scored easily to tie the game 2-2.
'It was a fastball away, and I was able to find the hole,' Healy said. 'It was nice to be able to come through for my team and give us a chance to pull that game out.'
The Golden Flashes had taken a 2-0 lead with runs in the opening two frames.
In the first inning, Rider reached on a one-out single to center. Catcher David Lyon then singled to right. First baseman George Roberts advanced the runners to second and third on a swinging bunt, and Sutton brought in Rider with a soft liner to shallow left.
Kent State tacked on another run by loading the bases with no outs after three consecutive singles by Sawyer Polen, Alex Miklos and Toadvine. Campbell then grounded to second for an easy 4-6-3 double-play, but Polen was able to cross the plate.
After Rider walked on a full count to put runners at the corners, Horton lifted starter Jeff Gold (1 2/3 innings, six hits, one walk and two earned runs) in favor of Brando Tessar.
'Shame on me, but I had a little bit of doubt when I woke up in the morning about whether Jeff Gold was a very good match-up for this type of team,' Horton said. 'They spray the ball around, and it's really a club that you want to throw velocity at and not the (finesse) style pitching of Jeff.
'I'm sure Jeff was surprised I came out and got him so soon. I'm sure he didn't want to come out of the game, but he wasn't missing very many barrels.'
The Ducks called upon their relievers the rest of the way.
Tessar threw 2 1/3 innings, allowing no hits and three walks. Joey Housey went 2 2/3 innings, giving up one hit and two walks. Thomas Thorpe chipped in for 2/3 of an inning, allowing no hits and no walks. And Sherfy went one inning, giving up one hit, one walk and one earned run in the losing effort.
'We probably fired our bullets too soon,' Horton said. 'But I didn't want to leave any bullets in the chamber.'
Kent State starter Tyler Skulina went 5 2/3 innings, allowing two hits, three walks and no earned runs. Casey Wilson went 1 1/3 innings, granting one hit and one earned run. Clark got the win, going two innings, with one hit, one walk and one earned run allowed.
For all the pitchers who took the mound for both teams and for all the batters who stepped into the box, though, the game - as well as Oregon's season - came down to one pop fly that got lost in the sun.
'That guy found a hole,' Thomas said. 'He just found a spot where we weren't. I lost it in the sun, unfortunately. But that's how the game goes sometimes.'