The Kent State baseball team earned an NCAA Tournament berth with Zarley Zalewski's two-run double in the eighth.
AVON, Ohio -- Kent State sophomore designated hitter Zarley Zalewski struggled in his first three plate appearances in the championship game of the 2014 Mid-American Conference Baseball Tournament against The University of Akron, but when it mattered most, he delivered the knockout punch that clinched a 3-0 win and an automatic berth into next weekend's NCAA Regional Tournament.
With center fielder Jon Wilson on base after a lead-off single and first baseman Cody Koch at first after an intentional walk, Zalewski stepped to the plate and took a 2-2 pitch from Evan Jensen to the gap in right-center field, which plated Wilson and Koch.
Then, Zalewski came around to score on single off the bat of freshman third baseman Curtis Olvey.
"It was a fastball right down the middle," Zalewski said. "I saw it up and drove it. It felt good off the bat. I got it off the barrel. It felt pretty good, was a good swing off of the bat. It felt good for me, finally, to come back and get the big hit when we needed it to get the win here.
"Throughout the whole day, I was struggling. I think I hit into three double plays, so I just forgot about that, came back and got the job done when I needed to. It's just the same approach throughout every at-bat, and it just happened to fall for me in that final at-bat."
The two-run double not only came as a relief to Zalewski, but also, the coaching staff after the early struggles in the game.
"Oh, my gosh, the kid's so resilient," Kent State coach Jeff Duncan said. "He's a great hitter, and the whole staff has nothing but believe in Zarley Zalewski. He's done it all year long. Those first three at-bats were tough on him, but then, he switches over to the left side and gets that big hit.
"I'll tell you what, that was an emotional at-bat, even for a coach, just to see that because that's what baseball's all about. You've got to handle adversity, and he sure did and came up big."
Zalewski's hit even impressed pitcher John Fasola, who got the win for Kent State after going 2.1 innings of one-hit baseball against Akron.
"They've been fantastic this whole tournament, and for the most part this whole year," Fasola said of the Golden Flashes' offense. "They've been pretty tough to beat.
"Zarley Zalewski struggled early on in this game, and for him to come up in the bottom of the eighth and get that hit shows you how much focus you can have and how much focus we have as an offense."
Zalewski's two-run hit came two frames after the Golden Flashes looked as though they took a 2-0 lead.
With one out, Wilson singled to third base, and then, left fielder Troy Summers singled to second. After Koch drew an intentional walk, his first of two in the game, Zalewski hit a grounder to shortstop, and the relay was thrown out into foul territory behind first base.
However, Koch was called for interference, which gave Akron the double play and took two runs off the scoreboard for Kent State.
"I didn't quite see it because it's a hard angle on it," Duncan said. "On that call, he said he was off of second base, inside of it and had his spike up a little bit and made contact with the infielder.
"I haven't seen it on replay or anything. It was a big call, and we're just fortunate to come out on top in nine innings."