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RECORD-COURIER STAFF REPORT
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- A ninth-inning rally by Kentucky spoiled a stellar pitching performance by sophomore Nick Jensen-Clagg and ended the Kent State baseball team's season on Saturday.
The Wildcats scored four runs in the top of the ninth to erase the Golden Flashes' two-run lead, and claimed a 4-2 victory in an elimination game in the Louisville Regional at Jim Patterson Stadium.
Kentucky (35-24) entered the contest averaging over 7.7 runs per contest behind Collegiate Baseball National Player of the Year T.J. Reed, a junior who had ripped 23 homers and driven in 70 runs. But Jensen-Clagg blanked the Wildcats for the first eight innings, allowing just three hits.
"Nick Jensen-Clagg is a heck of a competitor," said KSU first-year coach Jeff Duncan. "He was outstanding all game. It's a tough way to lose a game, especially the way Nick performed today."
Jensen-Clagg came out for the ninth and retired the first batter before Max Kuhn singled on an 0-2 pitch. Kuhn advanced to second on a balk, then Reed -- who was 0-for-3 -- plated Kentucky's first run with a double.
"Kuhn got a slider to hit and hooked that ball down the line," said Duncan. "Nick (had done) a great job with (Reed). A.J. dribbled a ball to first base the at-bat before, and we felt really comfortable trying to go at him again. His change-up was really working against left-handed hitters, especially against a guy like A.J. Reed."
Jensen-Clagg was then lifted, and junior reliever John Fasola (Hudson) promptly struck out the first batter he faced but walked the next two to load the bases with two out. Thomas Bernal then delivered what proved to be the game-winning hit, a two-run double down the left-field line just out of the reach of Kent State's Troy Summers.
Matt Reida then added an RBI single off KSU reliever Eric Dorsch to make it 4-2.
The Flashes (36-23) brought the tying run to the plate in the bottom of the ninth after a single by senior T.J. Sutton, but freshman Zach Beckner hit into a game-ending double play.
"You've gotta tip your cap to Kentucky for really doing a good job and finding a way to win," said Duncan. "They've got a potent offense, and we kept them down all game long. We did everything we can to win that game."
Jensen-Clagg wound up going a season-high 8 1/3 innings, allowing five hits and two runs with no walks and four strikeouts. Fasola (2-2) took the loss, giving up two runs while retiring just one batter.
"Fasola's done it all year long. He's been really good, especially here the last couple weeks," said Duncan. "I think he was a little amped up in that situation. He's never been in this situation, but we've got all the trust in the world in him. He threw really well, was up to 95 (miles per hour) a couple times, but his fastball was just a little up."
Reed, also on of the nation's top pitchers, went the distance to earn his 12th victory. The lefty allowed nine hits (all singles), but did not walk a batter while striking out three.
Kent State jumped on Reed for two runs in the first inning. Senior Jon Wilson led off with a single, Summers followed with a bunt single, and senior Cody Koch singled to center to load the bases for sophomore Zarley Zalewski, who delivered a two-run single.
Reed retired the next 14 batters, but Jensen-Clagg matched him pitch for pitch.
"I thought we did a really good job today bouncing back, putting up a two-spot on A.J. Reed, arguably the best college baseball player in the coutnry," said Duncan, whose squad was blanked 5-0 by host Louisville in its regional opener, which didn't end until early Saturday morning. "I thought we were really settled in today. Throughout the game we played really good defense, had some guys make some (great plays) -- (right fielder) T.J. Sutton made a great play in the seventh, and (sophomore catcher) Jeff Revesz on a bunt spins and throws and gets an out. We made all the plays we were supposed to and then some. We brought a great attitude and great effort into this game."
Wilson and Koch finished with two singles each for the Flashes, who defeated Kentucky 7-6 in 21 innings and 3-2 in the regional final on the way to the 2012 College World Series. Only four players from that 2012 KSU squad were in uniform on Saturday.
"This is a great experience for us," said Duncan, "a building block to get back to this type of setting next year."