Flashes ready for the challenge in College World Series
DetailsCreated on Saturday, 16 June 2012 00:10 Hits: 1309
Six wins separate the Golden Flashes baseball team from immortality and a national championship, and head coach Scott Stricklin gave himself chills in a passionate speech to his team that brought the whole College World Series into reality.
“We told them on the bus from Eugene to Portland, now that we’re here let’s compete for a national championship,” Stricklin said. “I gave myself chills saying that.”
Walking around the historic city of Omaha, where national champions in baseball have been held since 1950, has put what the team is doing into perspective. On Friday, Stricklin took his team to the site of Roseblatt Stadium, which, up until last year, had housed the College World Series for 61 years.
“The kids said they wanted to do it, but once we go there I think they were really excited that we were there,” Stricklin said.
He even took home a commemorative brick from the site.
But the Flashes aren’t worried about the past, and the players know it is all about taking things one game at a time with Saturday’s game being recognized as the biggest in program history. In fact, every game from here on out is the biggest game any Golden Flashes has ever played in.
“About 1 or 1:30 in the morning when we drove by the stadium and just seeing everything all lit up except for the top lights at the stadium, it was really impressive how big it was,” junior Nick Hamilton said. “Really the name of the city just kind of signifies everything for us as far as all of our goals for each and every year and to finally be here really sunk in when we drove in and saw the signs.”
On the field, the Flashes are right where they should be in terms of wins over quality opponents. But on paper, the Flashes have met some scrutiny along with another mid- major school in Stony Brook.
“The support here in Omaha, I mean for every team it’s unbelievable, but they do love the underdog story,” Stricklin said. “Omaha is a blue collar town and they love the story of Kent State and Stony Brook, the people that aren’t supposed to be here that have overcome a lot of obstacles and just the difficulties that we have just being a northern school, a mid-major school with budgets and weather and you put it all together — we’re not supposed to be here.”
The fact of the matter is the Flashes are in this position because of how the team plays. Facing off against Arkansas on Saturday at 5 p.m. on ESPN, Stricklin said he knows his team has what it takes to beat the Razorbacks. Beating Kentucky twice in the regional round of the tournament, the Wildcats beat Arkansas back in April two games out of three.
If history plays into any part of the equation, the Flashes are 3-0 in first meetings this post season.
Kent Fans Flock in Numbers to Omaha
With powerhouse schools like UCLA, Florida, Arizona and South Carolina still in the tournament, one would think that one of those schools would have the most fans present for game one of the tournament.
You would have to guess again.
Kent State was the only school of the eight to sell out all 700 allotted tickets to the school. The large outpour of support hasn’t gone unnoticed by the players.
“Oh, that’s pretty impressive,” Hamilton said when he heard the news. “We’ve got a lot of schools that have been here quite a few times before with huge fan bases and thousands of people per game, especially in the SEC, so that really speaks a lot to the Kent State fans and to our students and to our overall community.”
But not everyone can make the long 820-mile journey to Omaha, so a lot of the players have been receiving words of encouragement from friends through social networking.
“My entire community back home has been really supportive,” junior George Roberts said. “All my buddies and my family, all of them have been awesome especially my area, which is Forest Hills.”
Senior Jimmy Rider, Kent State’s hero for the foreseeable future, has found several reasons to play every game in Omaha like it’s his last, even after being drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 26th round of the MLB Draft.
With productions of gear and articles featuring the “Kentucky State Golden Flashes” and the “Kent State Golden Eagles,” Rider feels the disrespect of the school is just something to laugh off.
“It gives us a lot of extra motivation,” Rider said. “It helps us fly under the radar a little bit more, but other than that it really doesn’t mean too much to us, we kind of just joke about it and laugh around.”
Oregon found out for sure that it was the Kent State Golden Flashes when Rider’s hit in the bottom of the ninth sent the Golden Flashes to the College World Series and not the Ducks.
Now the Flashes have the coveted World Series patch sewn on to the right sleeve of all the team’s jerseys.
“It’s pretty special to be a part of it all and just be able to look back on that and be proud of it down the road,” Rider said.
Due to some intense storms moving through the area Thursday evening, the opening ceremony of the tournament had to be moved indoors to keep dry.
It was inside the CenturyLink Center Omaha that the whole team received word that their team GPA was the highest of all teams left in the tournament. All of the players and coach Stricklin were proud of the honor.
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