GARY, Ind. — Evan Campbell broke a scoreless tie with a controversial three-run homer in the eighth inning as Kent State defeated Kentucky 3-2 Sunday night to win the NCAA Regional title at U.S. Steel Yard.
The Golden Flashes (44-17) extended the longest winning streak in the nation to 20 games, completing a three-game sweep in the tournament.
Kent State edged UK 7-6 in Friday's opener — at 21 innings, the second-longest game in NCAA tourney history.
The Flashes knocked off Purdue on Saturday, then got to watch as Kentucky beat Purdue in an elimination game earlier Sunday.
Kentucky (45-18) won that game, but needed to beat Kent State in order to force another game in the double-elimination tourney.
So Kent State, making its fourth consecutive NCAA appearance, advanced to next weekend's Super Regional play at Eugene, Ore., to meet Oregon's Ducks.
The home run was controversial because it was close enough to the yellow railing — which the ball must clear — that there were doubts that the ball carried over.
"I didn't have a clear view in terms of what exactly happened, I guess, because I thought it was in the seats," UK Coach Gary Henderson said. "I looked immediately to the first-base (umpire Ken Durham) and he'd already signaled home run, and I looked at the second-base guy (Adam Dowdy) and he was jogging in the direction looking. So I thought immediately that two of them couldn't have missed it. ... I looked up and the outfielders were conversing with one of the umpires."
Henderson thought Durham had missed two calls earlier, so surely there couldn't be a third.
"The law of averages is staggering for that to happen," Henderson said. "So I just kind of assumed that he got it right. Then, that's obviously on me at that point. There's no doubt about that. I should have been out there jumping up and down and hollering, but I actually thought he got it right."
UK right fielder Cameron Flynn saw it differently.
"I thought it hit the guardrail (below the yellow) and came back," Flynn said. "I turned around to get it and the umpire called 'home run.'"
Henderson said before the game that he'd use his pitching staff similar to the way he did when the Cats met Arizona in a 2008 second-game-of-the-day finale in the Ann Arbor (Mich.) Regional. He used eight pitchers in that game, which Arizona won.
Chandler Shepherd had other ideas, though.
The freshman right-hander, who picked up his first collegiate save Saturday against Valparaiso, merely came out and fired 51⁄3 innings of perfect ball — 16 up, 16 down.
Kent's No. 8 hitter, Joe Koch, broke the perfecto with a line single to left field.
Including Saturday's save, Shepherd retired 19 in a row.
Koch was erased on a fielder's choice, with Derek Toadvine barely beating the double-play relay to first.
Henderson argued the safe call at first, and replays appeared to show the UK coach was correct.
No matter, though, as Shepherd struck out Evan Campbell.
Shepherd worked 72⁄3 innings, gave up four hits and a walk, striking out four.
He left with the game scoreless, but with runners on the corners.
Alex Phillips came in, and Campbell drove the first pitch to the railing above the right-field wall.
It was the only home run of the tournament.
Kent State righty Tyler Skulina was on his game as well.
Blanking the Cats on three hits through seven innings, he finally got chased when J.T. Riddle led off the eighth with a single and pinch-hitter Jeff Boehm drove an RBI double off the center-field wall.
UK added another run on Thomas McCarthy's sacrifice fly, but couldn't push another run across against Casey Wilson.
In the ninth, Wilson set down the Cats in order.
"Obviously disappointed to lose," Henderson said. "Proud of our kids. Proud of the effort. Proud of the concentration. Very impressed and pleased with Chandler Shepherd's effort tonight. ... Really proud of what our returners, specifically were able to do this year.
"They made a decision that they wanted to have a better experience, and I was pleased, motivated, inspired by them all year. I think Luke Maile and Michael Williams were at the core of that. I think a lot of guys contributed, but I think Kentucky baseball is at a place that we're proud of, and we're at a spot where moving forward, we can build on what we did."
Both teams finished with six hits. Riddle was the only player from either team with more than one, a pair of singles.
■ All-tournament team — P Bores and Skulina (Kent), Shepherd (UK). C Plawecki (P); 1B Roberts (Kent); 2B Toadvine (Kent); SS Rider (Kent); 3B McCarthy (UK); OF Zellers and Cousino (UK), Campbell (Kent); DH Bain (Valpo). Most outstanding players: Roberts (Kent).
Mark Maloney: (859) 231-3229. Twitter: @markmaloneyhl. Blog: markmaloney.bloginky.com