Kennesaw State Baseball Super Regional Bound
Owls bested Alabama, Georgia Southern and No. 5 Florida State in the four-team tourney to become the first team since 1993 to win a regional in its first attempt.
By Brandon Scardigli
With a 4-2 win over Alabama on Monday afternoon, the Kennesaw State baseball team punched its ticket to the NCAA Super Regional, the Owls winning their first ever Division I Regional in Tallahassee.
Pitcher Travis Bergen was named the Regional's Most Valuable Player after earning the win, checking in on short rest to go 3.1 innings of work, allowing just one hit and striking out two, notching his second win of the weekend.
KSU earns its 40th win of the season at 40-22 and becomes the first team since 1993 to win a regional in its first attempt. The Owls bested Alabama, Georgia Southern and No. 5 Florida State in the four-team tourney.
"It was an unbelievable experience here," said KSU head coach Mike Sansing. "The city's been great, Florida State's been great in hosting this tournament. I am proud of our guys. It was an unbelievable effort -- the whole time, not just today. But we came back today after last night and it was rough. I'm just proud of these guys, I love them all. I just want to thank everybody for believing in our program. It was just a great experience for me and I'm happy for them and our university.
"We started out a little slow, and we had to get to the pen early. James Connell, Bergen, Justin McCalvin, those guys came out strong and that's what we needed. We just kind of recycled some guys through. I can't say enough about what they did. Jacob Bruce gets the big hit there, the double, well a couple of them, but the big one. I thought our bullpen was the key to that game."
KSU rallied behind timely hitting from Bruce, Kal Simmons, Max Pentecost, Matt Bahnick and Jeremy Howell, all picking up RBIs in the two-run win for the Owls.
Both teams had chances early on, the Owls putting runners on the corners in Jacob Bruce and Bo Way in the bottom of the first and the Crimson Tide putting a runner on third in the top of the second.
KSU then broke through in the bottom of the second, loading up the bases with no outs as Simmons sent the sacrifice fly to right field, scoring Alex Liquori. The owls rallied behind the base hit from Liquori as well as an error to take the 1-0 lead.
Kennesaw State starter Jordan Hillyer walked the bases loaded in the top of the third with just one away, relief pitcher Connell then stepped up, striking out one and picking up a fly-ball out to get KSU out of the jam.
Alabama found success in the top of the fifth, taking over the lead with two runs on a pair of singles and a sacrifice fly to go up on the Owls, 2-1.
But KSU answered, scoring the tying run after back-to-back two-out doubles from Bruce and Pentecost, knotting things up at two after five complete.
The Owls then broke the tie in the bottom of the seventh, Bahnick leading things off with a single back up the middle. Howell entered the game to pinch run and was bunted over to second by Cornell Nixon before Bruce sent his second double of the day off the right field wall, scoring Howell to put KSU up 3-2.
Howell then stepped up and drove in the insurance run one inning later, singling in Chris McGowan to put the Owls up 4-2 headed into the top of the ninth.
McCalvin came into the contest with one out in the ninth, earning his 16th save of the season and a trip to the Super Regionals for KSU.
"We had talked about it as coaches and then I think it was right before the game and I looked up at Bergen and he says 'I'm ready,'" said Sansing of the decision to pitch Bergen on short rest. "So I was like, 'yeah, we'll see what happens.' If we had maybe gotten deeper, things might have been different. We had to go to Plan B. We knew he was ready as we knew Connell and McCalvin were as well. I can't say enough about him coming back even on two days. Yeah, he was going to be effective because he's got it right here [points to head]."
The Owls knocked Alabama for two seven hits, two of those coming from Bruce with his two doubles, an RBI and a run scored with a walk. Pentecost, McGowan, Liquori, Bahnick and Howell each had one.
"Coming into today, I hadn't had great success," said Bruce of his go-ahead double. "I was just trying to stay strong and my teammates would pick me up all weekend. I just took one pitch at a time today and I guess it was just my time to get that big hit. The pitcher wasn't throwing many strikes and I just had to get one strike."
For their stellar play in the tournament, Pentecost, Nixon, Way and Brennan Morgan were named to the All-Regional Team along with the MVP Bergen.
The Owls will now make their way to Louisville, Kentucky, to take on host team Louisville in the Super Regional. Date and times are still to be determined.
To keep up with the latest Kennesaw State baseball news, follow the team on Twitter @KSUOwlNation and @KSUOwlsBaseball or by liking Kennesaw State University on Facebook.