GARY | The first NCAA baseball tournament game in Northwest Indiana will be one that won't soon be forgotten.
The opening pitch of Friday's Kent State-Kentucky match-up at U.S. Steel Yard was thrown at 3:01 p.m. There were a few hundred fans in the stadium. The last one, a check-swing third strike against the Wildcats' Thomas McCarthy, was thrown by Michael Clark at 9:38, 21 innings later. The attendance had exceeded 5,000 as Kent State exited the field with an incredible 7-6 victory.
"It's the greatest game any of us have ever been involved in," Kent State coach Scott Stricklin said. "The twists and turns were unbelievable. Our kids were smiling and laughing in the dugout. At one point, I said, 'We've had enough fun, let's win the game.'"
Purdue and Valparaiso fans were lined up deep on the concourse, awaiting the end of a game they weren't even expecting to see, many of them unable to go to seats that were still occupied by Kentucky or Kent State backers. They ended up standing through more than a whole game.
When the gates were opened to single-game ticket holders for the Boilermakers and Crusaders at 6 p.m., the Flashes and Wildcats were just getting into the ninth inning of a 5-5 game.
The score remained that way through the 10th, 11th, 12th... OK, you get the idea. Kent State finally scored in the 18th inning to break the tie, but Kentucky promptly tied it, and the potential game-winning run thrown out at the plate. Seriously.
In the 20th inning, the Wildcats had the bases loaded with one out, but J.T. Riddle bounced into a 1-2-3 double play, making him 0-for-9 on the night. At that point, occupants of the press box looked at each other and wondered if they were ever going to see their loved ones again.
Kent State's George Roberts was 5-for-5 in the eighth inning, only to have no hits over a span of 13 innings.
The game featured 10 pitchers, modest considering the length of the contest. Kentucky's A.J. Reed, who was the guy cut down at home in the 18th, pitched more innings (nine) than both starting pitchers. He played all 21 innings, the first 12 as first baseman-designated hitter.
All told, 33 players saw the field. Kent State struck out 26 times. There were 38 hits with 43 runners left on base.
As the game marched on, the prospect of the second game not even being played Friday night became a real consideration. First pitch for Purdue-VU had to be thrown by 11 p.m.
By the time the marathon ended and the commensurate 50 minutes between games was over, Purdue and Valpo started at about 10:40, after this column had to be filed.
I'm tired. I can only wonder how Kentucky feels. It has to play again at 3 p.m. today. Wait, is it today already?
This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.