"That's what we've been dreaming about and working for, and here we are," Ducks head coach George Horton said.
Eight outs away from elimination, the Oregon offense found a groove in the seventh inning, aided by two errors by the Golden Flashes defense. Brett Thomas' single off of Kent State starter Ryan Bores ended up scoring Ryon Healy from first base to cut a two-run deficit in half after Alex Miklos bobbled the ball in the outfield.
Following a walk to Kyle Garlick, third baseman Ryan Hambright knocked in Thomas with an RBI single to tie the game. His older brother, Brett, put the Ducks ahead on a squeeze bunt, complemented with a throwing error by reliever Michael Clark, that scored Garlick from third base.
"Once I saw that fastball, I knew I was going to get it down and once I saw Kyle running down the line…no better feeling." Hambright said.
The Ducks defense and pitching took over the rest of the way. Thomas saved an extra base hit and possible rally in the eighth inning with a running grab that sent him crashing into the wall in left field.
The Golden Flashes had the tying run on base in the ninth inning after T.J. Sutton hit a double off of Ducks reliever Tommy Thorpe, but the left-hander struck out Nick Hamilton before giving way to Jimmie Sherfy.
The Ducks closer and Stopper of the Year award finalist swiftly struck out Sawyer Polen and Alex Miklos to end the game and force the Monday playoff.
"One big inning killed us," Kent State head coach Scott Stricklin said. "We had some opportunities to score and we didn't take advantage of those."
Freshman Jake Reed continued to make strides on the mound for Oregon, pitching 6 2/3 innings, giving up two runs on five hits with two walks and six strikeouts. Reed (8-4) only had trouble retiring Golden Flashes first baseman George Roberts, who went 2-for-4 with a home run and two RBI.
Roberts solo blast in the second inning put Kent State on the board and his RBI double two innings later eventually put Reed in a further jam with runners on the corners and no outs. After a mound visit with Horton, Reed settled in with two consecutive strikeouts and a groundout two batters later to escape unscathed.
"He's had a couple of outings where he's admitted he was nervous and I think he's learned from that," Horton said. "It didn't surprise me that he was as good as he was today."
The Oregon offense continued to sputter in the early going, this time against Bores (9-3). The junior retired the first nine Ducks he faced and cruised through the first six innings by allowing only three base runners, none of which reached scoring position.
He relied on a two-seam fastball and precise location while racking up four strikeouts over 6 1/3 innings. The Ducks bats couldn't find the sweet spot, creating easy outs for the Golden Flashes defense.
"He was working both sides of the plate really well," first baseman Ryon Healy said.
It seemed everything was going Kent State's way until the wheels fell off in the seventh. Bores exited after the Hambright RBI single and Clark struggled to find control even in warm-ups, sending one pitch into the backstop and another into the dirt.
Monday's game still does not have an official start time. Due to some Ducks having final exams, the game that was going to be pushed up to a 1 p.m. start time at the NCAA and ESPN's wish has now "unofficially" been set at 4 p.m., the original start time. An official time is expected Monday morning.
Both teams say they'll be ready to play no matter what time the game takes place. Despite the loss, Stricklin said he's happy with his team's position heading into the decisive game.
"I told our kids after that game that we've got a chance to go to Omaha, winner-take-all tomorrow, and every single one of us would've taken that September 1," Stricklin said.
Horton said he's told his team that he "doesn't want to take the uniforms off", having grown a special connection with this season's squad. The Ducks will start right-hander Jeff Gold tomorrow, but with so much on the line no arm is off limits for use, including ace Alex Keudell's on one day's rest.
"Within reason, we use anybody that says they're able to pitch," Horton said.
GAME NOTES –
Attendance at PK Park was 3,843.
The Ducks left five men on base to the Golden Flashes six.
Reed threw 101 pitches, 62 of them strikes. Bores threw 90 pitches, 57 of them strikes.
Horton mentioned that injured right-hander Brando Tessar could also be available to pitch in Monday's game.