For 8.1 innings, Kent State starter Nick Jensen-Clagg delivered one of the best pitching performances of the college baseball season, keeping the nation's third-highest scoring team in check on three hits without allowing a baserunner to reach second.
No one at Patterson Stadium, perhaps least of all the Wildcats perplexed by Jensen-Clagg's devastating change-up, realized the gem was about to come unravelled.
A one out single by Max Kuhn, followed by a balk and an RBI double from national player of the year A.J. Reed, pulled UK within 2-1 and breathed new life into the Cats.
Kent State made the move to closer John Fasola, who struck out Ka'ai Tom for the second out before walking Micheal Thomas and Storm Wilson, the latter who had fallen behind a ball and two strikes.
That brought Thomas Bernal to the plate, who appeared to be jammed on a pitch, but blooped it down the line just between Kent State third baseman Curtis Olvey and left fielder Troy Summers for a double to drive in two runs and give Kentucky (36-24) its first lead of the day.
Matt Reida followed with an RBI single to give the Cats an insurance run, but it was ultimately unnecessary with their ace, Reed, closing out the game with eight shutout innings. The junior left-hander, perhaps pitching for the final time in his decorated college career, bounced back from surrendering four straight hits and two runs to start the game by posting zeros the rest of the way.
Reed (12-2) scattered nine hits in the complete game effort, his first of the season. He did not walk a batter and, perhaps even more impressively, did not have a three-ball count against the Flashes.
"A.J. was outstanding," UK head coach Gary Henderson said. "... It's a cliche, but big-time players step up in the clutch when you need it."
"We just have to ride this high and carry the momentum into this next game," Reed added.
Reida, a senior shortstop who made several nice defensive plays in support of Reed, also led the Cats with a 2-for-4 day at the plate.
Henderson said he believes the Cats can turn their dramatic comeback into some extra energy for the remainder of the tournament.
"Winning late or losing late has a greater impact, I think, in all sports," he added. UK had been 0-21 when trailing after eight innings this season.
Kentucky's difficult climb out of the loser's bracket continues on Sunday when it may have to play two games. The Cats will face the loser of Saturday night's Louisville-Kansas game, followed by a game against the winner. Should UK win both, it would have an opportunity to play the winner again on Monday for a trip to the Super Regional.
Henderson said he was unsure about his pitching plan for Sunday's games. Much will depend on the outcome of the Louisville-Kansas game in the winner's bracket and the matchups it will create.
It is unlikely that Reed will see the mound again, although he indicated he may be available for one inning of work if the Cats absolutely needed it to win the regional championship.
My gut feeling is he's done pitching for us... at least here," Henderson said. "I would love to have that problem Monday."
Kent State, which eliminated UK two years ago in the Gary (Ind.) Regional, finished the season at 36-23. Zarley Zalewski drove in both Flash runs with a single in the first inning. Fasola (2-2) took the loss, allowing two runs on one hit and two walks in the ninth inning.