Burch’s diving catch preserves Kent State’s win in conference opener

Nick Buzzelli

When Kent State pitcher Zach Spangler entered Friday’s game at Ball State University with one out in the bottom of the ninth, the Flashes were ahead by three and looked to be in position to win their fourth straight.

Pinch hitter Zach Milam — the first batter Spangler faced — singled to the left to put runners on the corners. The next hitter reached on a fielding error, scoring one run.

Ball State’s Maverick Bacon then put his team within one courtesy of an RBI groundout appeared that the Cardinals were on their way to scoring the tying run on a well-hit ball to right field.

But redshirt senior Luke Burch bailed his pitcher out by making a diving catch in right to end the game and silence Ball State’s late comeback, 6-5, at First Merchants Ballpark Complex in Muncie, Indiana.

Burch went 2-5 on the day, collecting two singles and an RBI, while shortstop Josh Hollander and designated hitter Reilly Hawkins also recorded a pair of hits each.

Eli Kraus picked up the win for Kent State on the mound — his fourth of the season — surrendering three earned runs and six hits in seven innings while striking out seven. 

Ball State got on the board first after Alex Maloney hit a three-run homer that scored Matt Eppers and Roman Baisa.

The Flashes picked up two runs in third — both unearned — and Hawkins then doubled to left center the following inning to break a 3-3 tie.

Infielder Dylan Rosa added a solo shot to left in the eighth. Burch’s single in the top of the ninth put Kent State up three and, ultimately, set the stage for his game-preserving catch in the bottom half of the inning.

The Cardinals had an opportunity to score in both the fifth and sixth innings, but couldn’t catch a break. Kraus gave up a two-out ground rule double in the fifth but managed to get the next batter on a groundout.  

Meanwhile, Sean Kennedy led off the sixth with a bloop double, but was thrown out while attempting to advance to third on a sacrifice fly.

After surrendering the three-run homer in the first, Kraus limited the Cardinals to just three hits in his remaining six innings of work.

Kent State concludes the series against Ball State Saturday and Sunday before traveling to West Lafayette, Indiana, to take on Big Ten foe Purdue Tuesday night.

Nick Buzzelli is a sports reporter, contact him at [email protected].