OMAHA, Neb. — The Kent State Golden Flashes – and the blistering Omaha heat – melted No. 1 Florida’s chances to survive in Monday afternoon’s College World Series elimination game, topping the Gators, 5-4.
It was the hottest CWS game at first pitch in 11 years, registering 95 degrees on the thermometer right at the 4 p.m. CT start.
Most fans and followers believed the sweltering heat would be an advantage for Florida, the natives of the Sunshine State, while it would be to Kent State’s detriment. The warmest temperature the Golden Flashes had played in all season was 82 degrees.
But the sunny clear skies and brutal heat got to the Gators first, giving junior starting pitcher Hudson Randall problems from the get-go.
Randall entered the game as the most accomplished pitcher in school history, posting a 5-1 record and 2.50 ERA in nine career NCAA tournament starts. In his two previous NCAA postseason outings of the season, Randall went 2-0 with a 0.71 ERA against Georgia Tech and NC State.
Randall, the school’s postseason leader for innings pitched, strikeouts, wins and games started, was set to send the pesky Flashes back to Ohio, and let the Gators get back to business of a national title quest.
But in the middle of the first inning, the rising temperatures got to Randall, sending Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan out to the mound to check on his right-hander.
“He looked fine before the game,” O’Sullivan said. “I could tell he was laboring a little bit. I went out to give him a little breather to catch his breath. Then when I went out there, it was obvious he was having a little trouble breathing. So, we brought the trainer out and kind of slowed things down.”
Kent State noticed Randall was not himself right away.
“The first pitch of the game, Evan Campbell hit it into the gap and hit it pretty good,” Kent State head coach Scott Stricklin said. “He came back to the dugout and said he’s not throwing very hard.”
Randall grinded out the first inning, surrendering an unearned run that scored on an RBI-single by first baseman George Roberts, but when he returned to the dugout O’Sullivan had a heart-to-heart with the seventh-round draft pick.
“I asked him if he was okay to go back out,” O’Sullivan said. “Be brutally honest with me. Our option was to go with Jonathon [Crawford] and switch roles and have him start on Wednesday. He looked me in the eye, and I could tell he wasn’t ready to go back out. So, that’s why we made the switch.”
Kent State jumped on Crawford immediately, adding three runs in the second inning and another in the fourth frame to take a 5-1 lead. In total, the Flashes belted eight hits during Crawford’s three-inning relief stint.
“We got thrown a curveball there with [Randall] out after the first,” O’Sullivan said. “I’ve got to credit Kent State hitters. They did a nice job there in the second with two strikes and two outs.
“Not very often do you go into a game and have every expectation of your No. 1 starter getting taken out first, and then it just changes the whole complexion. But that’s not the reason we lost.”
Kent State starter Ryan Bores (10-3, 3.33 ERA) held the Gators to two runs on six hits in his six-inning performance. The triple-digit temperatures also played a role in Stricklin’s decision to pull Bores earlier than he normally would.
“We talked about sending him back out there, but it was very hot, very humid,” Stricklin said. “It’s tough sledding for pitchers out there today. We felt good with our bullpen, and that’s why we made the move.”
Florida took advantage of Kent State’s shaky bullpen that gave up four hits and four walks in three innings. The Gators chipped away with two more runs, but in the end the Golden Flashes were able to withstand the heat as Florida stranded six base runners in the final three innings.
“We just beat a great team, a team that deservedly so was ranked No. 1 in the country. And well coached, really talented,” Stricklin said. “And we were just able to find a way to win.”