The University of Arizona took advantage of six errors and got solid pitching in all but one inning in beating Kent State 7-4 in the South Bend Regional of the NCAA Division I Baseball Championship Saturday afternoon at Frank Eck Stadium. The third-seeded Wildcats (32-24-1), who came into this season with a five-game losing streak in NCAA play, advanced to the regional final for the first time since 1989.
Arizona, which has won five of its last six, got a strong outing from its starter for the second day in a row, as sophomore righthander Kevin Guyette gave up just four hits in holding the Flashes scoreless over the first six innings before getting into trouble in the seventh. Guyette ended up allowing four runs (three earned) on six hits in 6.1 innings, while striking out six.
Freshman righthander Mark Melancon (5-4) came on in the seventh and gave up an RBI single before retiring eight consecutive Kent State batters to end the game. He ended up going 2.2 innings and was credited with the victory in the first-ever meeting between the schools.
The Wildcats, who beat second-seeded UC Irvine on Friday, will next play the winner of Saturday evening’s contest between KSU and top-seeded Notre Dame. The first championship game of the South Bend regional will begin at 1:05 p.m. (EST) on Sunday, with another game following if Arizona should lose the first.
“We are very excited about being in tomorrow’s ballgame,” said Arizona head coach Andy Lopez. “This is a great regional; you don’t see any 14-12 scores. This is good baseball. I expect to see another good game tonight and one tomorrow, as well.”
Guyette and Melancon nearly combined for a shutout, as the four-run Kent State seventh, the only inning in which the Flashes scored, was nearly ended before any runs crossed the plate, but a would-be double-play ball slid through the legs of Arizona’s shortstop to allow the Golden Flashes to put together a big inning, rallying from a 4-0 deficit to tie the contest.
The Wildcats took the lead for good on an unearned run in the bottom of the seventh. Freshman shortstop Jason Donald singled to center and moved to second on a throwing error by reliever Ryan Davis, who was attempting a pickoff move. Junior catcher Richard Mercado came through with a two-out hit to drive in a run for the third time in two days to give Arizona a 5-4 advantage. Mercado had a pair of hits for the second day in a row.
KSU senior third baseman Matt Sega was game’s top offensive performer, continuing his hot hitting by going 3-for-4 with an RBI after a 2-for-4 performance on Friday, highlighted by his scoring the winning run in a 2-1 upset of #5 Notre Dame. Sega was hitless in his last 19 at-bats prior to the NCAAs.
The Golden Flashes (36-25), who had won seven of eight and 16 of their last 20 heading into Saturday, will try to stay alive by taking on top-seeded Notre Dame at 7:05 p.m. (EST).
“These guys did battle back; they’re blue collar,” said Kent State head coach Rick Rembielak of his team. “I won’t know until tonight’s game if this helped us or hurt us. We came back and fought back, but I don’t know how that will affect us. We need to play an overall cleaner game.”
Kent State junior righthander Jason Brunke, who had lasted six or more innings in each of his previous five starts, couldn’t get an out in the fifth, surrendering four runs (two earned) on three hits in 4.0+ innings. He struggled with his control, matching his season high with five walks and throwing just 46 strikes in 93 pitches, striking out one. He avoided taking the loss because of KSU’s four-run seventh.
Davis (0-1), the third of five Kent State pitchers, gave up three runs, two earned, in 1.1 innings to take the loss.
Arizona managed five baserunners without a hit over the first three innings, but didn’t get on the board until the fourth, when Donald reached base on Kent State’s third error of the game. Mercado got the first Wildcat hit and both runners advanced on a KSU passed ball. Sophomore designated hitter Nick Hundley then singled up the middle to drive in a pair of runs and give Arizona a 2-0 lead.
In the following inning, Brunke walked the first two batters and they both would come around to score. Senior third baseman Moises Duran doubled to drive in one, and Donald hit a sacrifice fly to make the score 4-0.
Kent State used a walk, an error, a wild pitch, and three singles to score four times in the top of the seventh to tie the game at 4-4. Junior right fielder Erick Holick walked with one out and singles by Joe Tucker and then Andrew Davis got the Golden Flashes on the board. Chad Kinyon, KSU’s top hitter, then hit a tailor-made double play ball that would have ended the inning, but it bounded through the legs of Donald and into center field, allowing another run to score. Sega then delivered his third hit of the day to drive in another run, and two batters later, Kinyon scored on a wild pitch by Melancon to tie the game.
The ‘Cats added a pair of insurance runs in the eighth on a sacrifice fly by Jeff Van Houten. Decater scored from third and Trevor Crowe made it home all the way from second when Tucker mishandled the relay from the outfield.
KSU twice got runners to third base in the first six innings, but could not score them. In the second, Will Vazquez led off with a double and moved to third on a sacrifice fly, but made it no further, as Guyette induced a pair of fly outs to get out of the inning. Sega hit a one-out single in the sixth, his second hit of the game, moved to second on a walk to Vazquez and then advanced to third on a Guyette wild pitch. But the Wildcat hurler struck out Marshall Woods to end the inning.
Kinyon reached base on a walk and an error and scored a run, but was hitless in four official at-bats to snap his 21-game hitting streak.