AKRON – Standing in the Canal Park dugout as the game wore on and the scoreboard re-started the inning count, Kent State coach Scott Stricklin had a little deja vu.
Maybe the most famous game in Kent State’s famous run to the College World Series last summer was the first, a 21-inning win over Kentucky in the regionals. And here, Thursday night, with not as much on the line but still in an important spot, Stricklin thought back.
It’s a different year and a totally different set of circumstances, but the Flashes finally beat Akron, 5-4, in 17 innings Thursday night to keep their hopes alive of winning the Mid-American Conference regular-season title. The winning run was produced when Derek Toadvine advanced from first to third on a Sawyer Polen bunt in the top of the 17th, then scored on an Evan Campbell top fly.
All are familiar names from last year’s run.
“It was after that 21 inning game that we really took it to a new level last year,” Stricklin said.
So the challenge is there again. Kent State will have to win next week’s MAC tournament in Avon, Ohio to get back to the NCAA tournament; either the Flashes or Buffalo will be the No. 1 seed.
Kent State took a 4-0 lead in the first three innings Thursday night; the Zips got all their runs in one big inning. Three times in extra innings Thursday Akron left a runner stranded on third base.
The night’s other big winner was Akron Children’s Hospital; the seventh annual Diamond Classic for Kids drew a crowd of more than 2,200 and raised almost $21,000 for the hospital.
“Get something to eat and get some sleep,” Stricklin told his team after the game — and about 12 hours before they were due back on the bus for the second game of the series. In college baseball, the show goes on quickly.
A boring program Kent State is not. It is one that’s used to playing its best at this time of year, and we’ll see starting today (game two of the series started at 3 p.m.) if the Flashes can ride the momentum they gained from winning in 17 innings.
Toadvine’s baserunning heroics can be seen in the video below