Kennesaw State will play Louisville after winning the Tallahassee Regional on Monday in its first Division I postseason berth. Dates and times for the series are yet to be determined.
Bruce also doubled to right field in the fifth inning and was the only Owl with multiple hits.
Pitcher Travis Bergen (9-4) earned the win after entering the game in the sixth inning and the scored tied at 2-2. He threw 3 1/3 innings scoreless innings, struck out two, walked one and allowed one hit. Bergen pitched 8 2/3 scoreless innings to earn the win against the Crimson Tide in the regional opener last Friday. He was named the regional’s Most Outstanding Player.
Kennesaw State earned its 40th win of the season, and at 40-22, becomes the first team since 1993 to win a regional in its first attempt. The Owls bested Alabama, Georgia Southern and No. 5 Florida State in the four-team tourney.
“Well we won as a NAIA program in ‘94 and I told the guys today, that was huge,” Kennesaw State coach Mike Sansing said, who brought his team to Division I in 2006. “In ‘96 we won a Division II national championship, and that was huge. As a team in the ‘90s as Division II, that was huge. But I think this is going to put more of a stamp on Kennesaw State baseball. It’s been a long process for sure, but it’s great to be here today and where we are.”
Trailing 2-1 in the fifth inning, the Owls got back-to-back two-out doubles from Jacob Bruce and Max Pentecost to tie the game.
The Owls reclaimed the lead in the bottom of the seventh. Bahnick led things off with a single up the middle. Jeremy Howell entered the game to pinch run and was bunted to second by former Lassiter High School standout Cornell Nixon before Bruce sent his second double of the day off the right field wall, scoring Howell to put Kennesaw State up 3-2.
“Coming into today, I hadn’t had great success,” Bruce said of his go-ahead double. “I was just trying to stay strong and my teammates would pick me up all weekend. I just took one pitch at a time today and I guess it was just my time to get that big hit. The pitcher wasn’t throwing many strikes and I just had to get one strike.”
Howell drove in an insurance run one inning later, singling in Chris McGowan to put the Owls up 4-2 heading to the top of the ninth.
Bergen started the inning and got Alabama’s Georgie Salem to ground out to second. With one out, Kennesaw State closer Justin McCalvin came in the game to try to earn the save. He started by hitting the Crimson Tide’s Ben Moore and giving up a single to Wade Wass. But then, McCalvin forced a foul out by Austen Smith and struck out Kyle Overstreet to end the game.
“It was an unbelievable experience here,” Sansing said. “The city’s been great, Florida State’s been great in hosting this tournament. I am proud of our guys. It was an unbelievable effort — the whole time, not just today. But we came back today after last night and it was rough. I’m just proud of these guys, I love them all. I just want to thank everybody for believing in our program. It was just a great experience for me and I’m happy for them and our university.”
The Owls looked to take control of the game early as they loaded the bases with nobody out in the bottom of the second. But Kal Simmons’ sacrifice fly to score Alex Liquori for a 1-0 lead was the only run Kennesaw State would get.
With one out, Owls’ starter Jordan Hillyer walked the bases loaded in the top of the third. But Sansing called for James Connell out of the pen. A strikeout and a fly out got Kennesaw State out of trouble with its lead intact.
Alabama scored twice in the top of the fifth, taking the lead with two runs on singles by Moore and Wass, an error, a balk, and a sacrifice fly by Smith to take the lead.