Flashes baseball claim their first regional championship
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When the Kent State baseball team’s bus arrived in front of Dix Stadium Monday afternoon, fans of the team greeted the players and coaches with rousing applause and encouraging compliments.
The Flashes were all smiles as they unloaded their duffel bags and equipment from the bus and walked through the gates to the stadium’s clubhouse, shaking hands with fans and local media along the way.
The team returned to Kent after a history-making weekend in Gary, Ind., where the Flashes claimed their first ever regional championship and secured a spot in the NCAA Super Regionals.
The Flashes, who hold a record of 44-17, have won 20 consecutive games, the longest active winning steak in the nation.
After winning the Mid-American Conference Tournament championship May 26, Kent State clinched the regional title Sunday with a 3-2 victory over the Kentucky Wildcats, advancing to the Super Regionals for the first time in program history.
For head coach Scott Stricklin, this is an exciting time, as he and his players have an opportunity to advance further in the NCAA tournament.
“We lost six players to professional baseball last year,” Stricklin said. “We knew we’d still have a good team this year, but to get to a Super Regional and to have a chance to win a Super Regional — it’s a dream come true.”
The Flashes will get that chance starting Saturday, when they travel to Eugene, Ore., to take on the Oregon Ducks in a best-of-three tournament series.
If the Flashes win two of the three games against the Ducks, they will advance to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.
The historic weekend began Friday, when the Flashes defeated the Wildcats 7-6 in 21 innings, the second longest game in NCAA tournament history. The game lasted 6 hours and 37 minutes.
“I’ve never experienced anything like that,” junior right-handed pitcher Ryan Bores said. “It was the longest game I’ve ever been a part of. We were on pins and needles the whole game, and we found a way to sneak it out.”
The Flashes pulled off a 7-3 win over top-seeded Purdue on Saturday, and a three-run home run by junior center fielder Evan Campbell propelled the Flashes past Kentucky in the championship round Sunday.
“Our guys fought hard against Kentucky,” Stricklin said. “They were ranked number one in the country for a lot of the season, so we were big underdogs in those games. We played the best baseball we could and came away with the championship.”
The Ducks, who are ranked No. 10 in the nation, may consider the No. 25 Flashes underdogs as well, but senior left-handed pitcher David Starn said he doesn’t see it that way.
“A lot of other teams used to consider us a smaller school, because we weren’t a big powerhouse or a big-name school,” Starn said. “I feel like we’ve proven to those teams that we can compete with the best of them.”
Bores said it is important for the Flashes to come out strong and focused in the series opener Saturday.
“If we can go in and win the first one, we can set the tone early and show (Oregon) that we can play,” Bores said. “They might think we’re underdogs and take us lightly, so we need to go in there and get that first win.”
The team will travel nearly 3,000 miles to face Oregon in the Super Regional, but Coach Stricklin said he believes the long-distance trip won’t have a negative effect on his players.
“We played at New Mexico State and Fresno State earlier in the year, so our kids have already been across the country twice,” Stricklin said. “They’re battle-tested, and they’ll be ready to go.”
Stricklin said he knows it will be a challenge against Oregon, but he said his team will prepare for it.