Every time Kent State Golden Flashes' head coach Scott Stricklin gets a question from the press about junior catcher/first baseman Jason Bagoly, he pauses, holding back tears no doubt.
Bagoly's mother Cheryl McHenry passed away unexpectedly last week. Jason stayed with the team, waiting for funeral arrangements to be finalized. Stricklin said most of Bagoly's family is here in Omaha and he has his "second family" here with him as well -- his team. They are wearing a "CM" sticker on their caps in honor of Bagoly's mother.
"Our prayers are with his family and our thoughts are with him," Stricklin said after the Golden Flashes dropped Game 3 of the College World Series, 8-1, to the Arkansas Razorbacks on Saturday, June 16. "He's gotten a lot of hugs from our kids the last couple days. We love him to death and he loves us back because he wants to stay with us."
Bagoly, who was hitting .264 with 3 HR and 24 RBIs, didn't play in that game, but he was on deck when the game ended. Afterward, Stricklin was disappointed in himself for not getting Bagoly into the game earlier.
"This has been a difficult few days for our program," Stricklin said in the postgame press conference on Monday, June 18 after knocking off the No. 1 ranked Florida Gators, 5-4, in an elimination game. "I can't even imagine what it's been like for Jason.
"The last couple nights I've really been wrestling with the decision. I was really disappointed in myself that I didn't get him in. I should have [got] him an at-bat [in the] second or third inning, and I was disappointed he didn't get that at-bat."
As disappointed as he was, Stricklin says he and his staff went back and forth about whether to play Bagoly against Florida.
"You think about the ramifications if he has a bad game," Stricklin said.
One thing was certain -- his team was behind him no matter how he performed.
"If he went back‑to‑back strikeouts, nothing would have changed," said Kent State catcher David Lyon after the game. "We're part of his family, we're always behind him, and he knows that and that helped him battle and succeed the way he did today."
Succeed he did.
Stricklin told a group of reporters after the game that Bagoly played "the best game of his career," going 2-for-3 with a single, a double and a run scored as the designated hitter. He even put down a nice sacrifice bunt in the fifth inning -- something Stricklin joked about after the game.
"These guys watch Jason bunt every day," Stricklin said. "It is by far the best bunt Jason Bagoly has ever put down."
But then Stricklin's tone turned serious.
"He just had an unbelievable game, and that gave us a lift," Stricklin said. "I think he needed that. I think his family needed that. I'm just really proud that he's on our team.
"He's going to fly back tomorrow. His mother's funeral is tomorrow. He's going to fly back tomorrow morning and spend some time with his family. Then we'll see him back here again. I don't know when, but those are the plans for him."
The Golden Flashes are scheduled to play the loser of the Arkansas-South Carolina Gamecocks game on Wednesday, June 20.