AVON, Ohio -- The No. 5-seeded Ohio baseball team (29-26) scored four runs over the final three innings to topple No. 1-seeded Kent State (36-17), 5-3, in a late-night matchup at Sprenger Stadium on Thursday (May 25), advancing the Bobcats to the 2017 Mid-American Conference Championship bracket final.
The Bobcats have now won seven of their last eight games. Ohio has won six-straight MAC tournament games dating back to its 4-0 championship run in 2015. The Bobcats opened 2017 MAC Championship play by beating No. 4-seeded Ball State, 4-3, on Wednesday (May 24). Ohio beat the MAC regular season champion Golden Flashes for the third time in four tries in 2017 and for the first time in conference tournament play since a 3-1 victory in 2000.
With rain falling all day in Avon and slowing up the other three MAC tournament games played on Thursday, the contest did not get underway until 10:45 p.m. ET and did not end until 2 a.m. ET on Friday (May 26).
Kent State jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second inning when senior second baseman Dom Iero led off with a double to right center and scored two outs later on an infield single back to the mound by sophomore third baseman Josh Hollander.
Ohio made sure Kent State's lead was short lived by scoring the tying run in the top of the third. Sophomore center fielder Devon Garcia (Bowling Green, Ohio) was hit by a pitch to lead things off, advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by senior shortstop Tyler Finkler (Olmsted Falls, Ohio) and then scored when senior right fielder Spencer Ibarra (Fort Collins, Ohio) reached on a Kent State fielding error -- one of two committed by the Golden Flashes in the frame.
The Golden Flashes jumped back in front in the fourth, though, when redshirt junior designated hitter Reilly Hawkins hit a one-out single to center, moved to third after freshman shortstop John Matthews was hit by a pitch and Hollander walked and then scored by way of an RBI fielder's choice that put redshirt junior left fielder Nick Kanavas on base.
Kent State had an opportunity to add onto its lead in the sixth inning, but the Ohio bullpen buckled down to keep the Bobcats in the game. Matthews drew a one-out walk and stole second one out later, and Kanavas followed with a walk to put two runners on for the Golden Flashes. Redshirt junior right-handed reliever Cory Blessing (Mayfield, Ohio) kept Kent State off the scoreboard, though, by getting junior center fielder Mason Mamarella to ground out to short to end the inning
Ohio's bats responded to the momentum by tying the game at two-all in the top of the seventh. Redshirt junior catcher Nick Bredeson (Bloomfield Hills, Mich.) reached second base on a two-base Kent State throwing error to lead things off. Two outs later, Finkler delivered a clutch double down the left field line to even the score.
Sophomore right-hander Kenny Ogg (Indianapolis, Ind.) came on to pitch in the bottom of the seventh and got out of a jam to keep the score tied. After redshirt senior right fielder Luke Burch and junior first baseman Dylan Rosa reached base safely on back-to-back Ohio errors to lead things off, both moved into scoring position on a wild pitch. With runners on second and third and nobody out, Ogg got junior catcher Tim DalPorto to strike out swinging for the first out, Iero to ground out back to the mound for the second and Hawkins to ground out to second for the third to keep the Golden Flashes from retaking the lead.
The momentum from Ogg shutting the door on the Golden Flashes carried over to the top of the eighth and allowed Ohio to take a 4-2 lead. Senior second baseman Ty Black (Waynesville, Ohio) sent a leadoff double down the left field line. After redshirt junior right-handed starting pitcher/designated hitter Michael Klein (Highlands Ranch, Colo.) walked one out later, Black scored the go-ahead run for the Bobcats when senior third baseman Connor Callery (Covington, Ky.) reached on a fielding error and a fourth Kent State miscue. Klein and Callery both moved into scoring position on a wild pitch, and Bredeson took advantage by serving up a sacrifice fly to right to allow Klein to tag up and score from third and give Ohio a two-run lead.
After Ogg worked around a two-out walk by Kanavas in the home half of the eighth, the Bobcats tacked on a fifth run in the top of the ninth. Garcia sent a leadoff single back up the middle, advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Finkler and scored one out later on another double down the left field line by Black.
Ohio then called upon redshirt junior right-handed closer Jake Roehn (Sandwich, Ill.) to lock down the win. Burch led off with a single through the left side and scored one out later on a pinch-hit double to right center by sophomore Pete Schuler to cut Ohio's lead to two runs, but Roehn struck out both Iero and freshman pinch hitter Patrick Ferguson swinging to end the ballgame. The 2017 All-MAC First Team selection broke the program's single-season record by earning his 14th save of the 2017 season, topping the previous mark of 13 set by right-handed pitcher Logan Cozart in '15. Roehn's career saves total now stands at 21, which is good for second-most in program history.
Ogg earned the victory on the mound for Ohio, improving to 2-1 on the year. He struck out two while walking one over two scoreless innings of relief. Klein worked the first five innings on the mound, fanning four while giving up two earned runs on three hits and four walks. Blessing tossed two scoreless innings of relief, striking out one while permitting two walks. After Hawkins' one-out single in the fourth, Ohio's pitchers held Kent State without a hit until Burch's leadoff single in the bottom of the ninth.
Black produced the lone multi-hit effort of the ballgame, going 2-for-4 with a pair of doubles, driving in a run and scoring another. He produced his 17th multi-hit effort of the year, which ranks fourth on the team. He has now reached base in a team season-high 31-straight games this year.
Sophomore right-handed starting pitcher Joey Murray threw 6.2 innings for Kent State. The 2017 MAC Pitcher of the Year struck out eight but allowed two unearned runs on two hits and two walks. Redshirt junior southpaw reliever Patrick Dayton took the loss on the mound for the Golden Flashes, dropping to 2-2 on the year. He struck out one but gave up one earned run on a hit and a walk in 1.1 innings of work. Redshirt junior righty Zach Spangler permitted one earned run on two hits in one inning of relief for the Flashes.
After punching its ticket to the 2017 MAC Championship winner's bracket final, Ohio has earned a day off from tournament play. The Bobcats will take on the winner of the 4:30 p.m. ET Friday elimination game between Kent State and No. 8-seeded Toledo (17-40) on Saturday (May 27) in a 1 p.m. ET matchup. Toledo was shutout by Kent State, 7-0, on Wednesday but kept its season alive by eliminating Ball State with a 15-5 win on Thursday. Ohio can punch its ticket to the 2017 MAC title game with a victory on Saturday. All of the MAC Championship action will be broadcast live on ESPN3 and WatchESPN. 'Voice of the Bobcats' Russ Eisenstein will have the call of Ohio's games on WOUB 1340 AM and online on OhioBobcats.com via Stretch Internet.