Record-Courier Staff Report
The Kent State baseball team (34-21) removed a pesky thorn from its side and advanced to the Mid-American Conference Tournament semifinals with a 4-3 victory over top seed and regular season champion Ball State (39-17) Thursday night at All Pro Freight Stadium in Avon.
The Golden Flashes had lost six straight games to the Cardinals, including three during the 2014 regular season and two in last year's MAC tourney.
Former Streetsboro High School star Dan Kopcak was the hero of heroes for the Flashes, earning his first save of the season by retiring all 10 batters he faced in relief of sophomore starter Nick Jensen-Clagg.
“I felt like I was just in a zone today. No way I was gonna give this up for our team,” said Kopcak. “I feel amazing right now, to get this done for our team. This is huge for us.”
Senior Troy Summers drove in what proved to be the game-winning run with a two-out single in the fourth, after fellow senior Jon Wilson reached on an error.
Jensen-Clagg coughed up three runs in the first inning, when Ball State erased a 2-0 deficit, then shut down the Cardinals for the next four innings before running into trouble in the sixth. That's when Kopcak entered, with runners on first and third and two out, and got a groundout to end the inning.
Kopcak then retired three more BSU hitters on ground balls in the seventh. He opened the eighth by striking out 2014 MAC Player of the Year Sean Godfrey, and retired the next two hitters on a groundout and strikeout.
Kopcak then finished off the Cardinals on a pair of ground balls and a strikeout in the ninth.
“Dan Kopcak did an outstanding job coming in for (Jensen-Clagg), who really battled as well,” said KSU coach Jeff Duncan. “(Kopcak's) stuff tonight was outstanding, and (I love) the way he competed and wanted the baseball.”
Kent State took a 2-0 lead in the first inning against Ball State starter Scott Baker, the 2013 MAC Pitcher of the Year, as senior first baseman Cody Koch delivered an RBI double. Ball State countered with three runs of its own, with Godfrey driving in a pair.
The Flashes tied it in the third, as Koch doubled and scored on a two-out double by senior T.J. Sutton. Summers, playing due to the season-ending knee injury suffered by star junior centerfielder Alex Miklos, then put Kent State ahead to stay at 4-3 with his RBI single off Ball State reliever Clay Manering.
Kock went 3-for-5 with two doubles and a pair of runs scored, while Jeff Revesz added a double and single.
Jensen-Clagg (5-2) earned the win, allowing five hits and three runs in 5.2 innings with three walks and five strikeouts, while Baker (7-5) suffered the loss (4 runs allowed in 3.2 innings).
“It was a great team win. Everybody did a great job,” Duncan added. “It was an emotional win for all of us — they walked off on us twice (during the regular season), and we learned from it.”
Kent State will now play the winner of today's game between Ball State and No. 8 seed Western Michigan (23-30) on Saturday at 1 p.m. A win would give the Flashes a chance to capture the championship on Sunday, while a loss would set up an elimination-game rematch between the same two teams Saturday at 8 p.m.