While Kent State (46-19) lost to Arkansas in their College World Series debut, their resilience may lead them past Florida in Monday’s rebuttal game.
For the Golden Flash, who were upstaged in an 8-1 romp against Florida, their run has not finished yet. They still have another game against top-seeded Florida in order to prove that their improbable run at the title was indeed legitimate. While their appearance in Omaha was unlikely, they hope to make the best out of their stay despite their opening loss.
This is, after all, their first time ever playing in the College Baseball World Series and is the first time that a team from the Mid-American Conference has even made it to the College World Series since Eastern Michigan did such in 1976.
Kent State comes into their Monday game against the No. 1 ranked team in the nation, Florida, with a sense of purpose. They need to make amends with their loss and rebuttal for their life. If they lose, they’re done. If they win, they keep playing.
The Golden Flash were put in a similar situation last Monday against the University of Oregon Ducks.
After beating Oregon in the first of a best two-out-of-three series, they lost the comeback game and had their backs against the wall at PK Park on Monday afternoon. Once again, the message was simple. Win and you keep playing in Omaha or lose and you go home.
After experiencing a long weekend of away-game heckling, Kent State rallied back to defeat Oregon in the bottom of the ninth inning. The Golden Flash took an early 2-0 lead, blew the opportunity to close out easily by surrendering two runs to the Ducks in the top of the eighth and rallied back for a thrilling ninth-inning victory.
I was in attendance for the thrilling Saturday night game, in which the Kent State center fielder made a wildly impressive two-out diving catch with bases loaded to win the game. Had he buffed, the Golden Flash would have been down 1-0 going into Sunday—a game in which the team eventually did lose to break their 21-game win streak.
Their most recent loss against Arkansas certainly came against a qualified team, but the game could be attributed to a case of the butterflies and inexperienced shakiness for the young team who had never played on such a large stage before.
A Kent State victory over the No. 1 ranked Florida team would certainly be called an upset, and fans on the NCAA.com Web site are heavily picking Florida to take the win on Monday.
The small-town team features 21 players from Ohio, and all of the rest hail from neighboring Pennsylvania.
"We're already known as a regional power in the Midwest,'' head coach Stricklin told Sports Illustrated. "What this does is it puts us more on the national radar, a little more awareness of what we've been able to accomplish.”
The Golden Flash have made a thunderous run so far, and while they may be the improbable Cinderella, they still have more to prove. After counting them out when they traveled to PK Park and spending more time heckling left fielder Alex Miklos than worrying about the game itself, I’ve learned not to count out Kent State in games that matter.
It’ll be tough, but against Florida, it’s as much Kent State’s game as it is anyone’s and I’m beginning to like their odds.
“We’ve got to make sure that we’re not just happy to be here,” Stricklin told the NCAA. “We want to compete and get some wins and make a run at it. It’s still possible. We’re still here.”