Purdue can come back and win this regional, but it will take a concerted team effort.
Sometimes it is simply not your night. Tonight wasn't Purdue's night for sure. Kent State is a very good, experienced team as I explained in the full regional preview. Even after going 21 innings on Friday night they still had two solid starters in return. Ryan Bores was one of them and he threw a solid game to reach 9-2.
Ultimately, the game boiled down to the critical second inning. On a night where we struggled to get the leadoff man out, Lance Breedlove got the first two outs in the second relatively easily. Two seeing-eye singles got Kent State in action, but Evan Campbell walked on a close 3-2 pitch. Purdue was literally a strike away from getting out of the inning with no damage. Instead, Jimmy Rider followed with a critical 3 RBI double that was fair by about a foot in left field. Now it is 4-2 after being up 2-1 with two outs, no one on. Another single and a double would score two more runs and chase Breedlove.
The bullpen only gave up one more run, but that brief stretch shifted the momentum from our favor to theirs. Kent State then got two critical double plays in the fourth and seventh when Purdue threatened to get back in it by getting the first two runners of the inning on. The fourth was especially cruel, as Ryan Bridges forced a mound visit by getting ahead in the count 2-0. The very first pitch after the visit was a back-breaking 5-4-3 DP.
We would later load the bases in the inning when yet another break went against us. Tyler Spillner was grazed by a pitched that at first looked to be a clean wild pitch. Had it been a clean wild pitch, Barrett Serrato would have scored easily from third to make it 6-3 and at least salvage something from the inning. Instead, Spillner loaded the bases and Andrew Dixon struck out swinging.
That was the kind of night we had. Kent State got big hit after big hit, chasing Lance Breedlove. Jack DeAno and especially Sean Collins did a great job of limiting them the rest of the way, but while Kent State got seeing-eye singles and a critical double that didn't slice down the line quite enough, Purdue hit into double plays and got under fly balls. The difference tonight between two very good teams was that Kent State got all the baseball breaks and Purdue didn't.
So Purdue is up against it now. Kent State rested its bullpen and can full recover from its 21 inning game, but Purdue has to fight off Kentucky before getting a rematch. We also have to beat them twice while they still have a 10-2 pitcher in Tyler Skulina waiting in reserve. Kent State also has the confidence that they are riding a 19-game winning streak and they have been here before. It's a tough road to follow, but not impossible.
As it stands, we're not the only regional host in trouble. Miami is already out, going 0-2 as a regional host and becoming the first host to do so since 2007. No. 6 Seed North Carolina, No. 4 Seed Baylor, Texas A&M, Rice, and North Carolina State are already in the losers bracket as hosts with Purdue as well. Stanford and Arizona are also tied as of this writing. That's eight hosts that may have to win three games in two days to advance. At least two are going to pull it off, so why not us?
We're still a good hitting team capable of big innings. We still have a deep pitching staff with starters Connor Podkul, Robert Ramer, and Calvin Gunter available. We still have Blake Mascarello and Nick Wittgren with only one inning on them. Hell, it's not outside the realm of possibility that Lance Breedlove could come back and throw Monday since he only went an inning and two thirds.
When I was leaving the stadium tonight I saw a very frustrated team getting on the bus. They know they can play better. They know they can win this regional. They simply have to channel that frustration and come through tomorrow.
It's not impossible. Merely difficult.