Baseball looks to rebound from tough start to the season

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Kent State third baseman Pavin Parks swings Friday during the Flashes’ 7-2 win over Miami (OH). Kent State won their 12th MAC Championship Saturday with a 14-0 win over the Redhawks. 

John Conley

Kent State baseball coach Jeff Duncan knew coming into the season that the Flashes had a tough start to the schedule.

And while the Flashes are 4-10 after their first road-trip, Duncan thinks that the tough start will help the Flashes down the line.

“We always have a challenging schedule right out of the gate,” Duncan said. “I’m a firm believer that if you want to be the best, you have to play the best. We find out what our guys are truly made of and we also find out what we need to work on.”

The season started at Dallas Baptist’s Horner Ballpark where the Flashes were swept by the Patriots. Dallas Baptist is coming off a 42 win season a year ago, and they have also reached  the postseason in seven of the last eight seasons.

“Dallas Baptist is a very good team and it was tough going winless there,” sophomore Michael Turner said. “I think losing three in a row right out of the gate made us work even harder and start to play better.”

The Flashes left Dallas and headed to Conway, South Carolina for three games versus three different opponents.

The first game against North Carolina State ended in an 3-2 loss in 11 innings. NC State remains undefeated through 14 games, and is currently ranked No. 22 in the nation according to D1baseball.com.

“We could’ve beaten NC State, that loss in extra innings stings,” Turner said. “They are undefeated right now and everyone on our team believes we should have been their only loss. Starting out with a losing streak definitely wasn’t fun, but each game we started to play better and better. Things are starting to click.”

The Flashes then faced another quality opponent in Coastal Carolina who is ranked No. 17 with a 12-3 record. Despite out-hitting the Chanticleers, the Flashes couldn’t string together any run support, falling 8-2.

“We learned a lot from playing these teams, Coastal Carolina plays very fast, NC State plays very smart,” Duncan said. “Playing these teams with different playing styles helps us adjust to what we can expect later on in the season.”

Kent State finally broke through with a win in their final game in Conway, taking home a 12-2 win over Michigan State in the first ever matchup between the two teams. The bats produced 10 hits and had a big fourth inning which saw five Flashes cross home plate.

The Flashes’ stellar performance at the plate would not stop there, however, as the Flashes combined for 10 hits in their next game in a 9-1 victory over Charleston Southern.  

Starting pitcher Zach Schultz earned his first win of the season by throwing five scoreless innings. He was relieved by freshman Max Rippl for two innings before sophomore Jack Zimmerman closed out the game. The trio of pitchers combined for a season-high 16 strikeouts.

The Flashes extended their winning streak to three games their next time out, defeating the Citadel 11-2. The Flashes’ offense once against served as the catalyst for the victory,  as they produced a season-high 14 hits and all 10 batters who went to the plate reached base.

The road trip continued on with a three-game series against Charlotte. The series started off with a doubleheader, with the Flashes falling in both games. The Flashes failed to record a run in the first 11 innings of the doubleheader. They managed to rebound, however, winning the series finale 5-3.

“We’ve faced some really good teams and it’s been a grind being on the road for so long,” sophomore Greg Lewandowski said. “Playing good competition early in the season will overall help us when it comes to the Mid-American Conference matchups and the MAC tournament.”

Kent State then traveled to West Virginia for the final road series of the early season. A doubleheader started the series with the Flashes falling in both games. The Mountaineers won the series final 9-7 to finish off the sweep.

The Flashes have seen some success from players all over the field throughout this road trip. On the hitting side, senior Josh Hollander leads Kent State with a .355 batting average with two more Flashes right behind him batting .333. Senior Connor Wollersheim leads the way on the hill with a 1.19 ERA and has recorded 26 strikeouts through four starts. Wollersheim has yet to find a win, but has shown consistency on the mound.

“The team is loaded with talent,” Lewandowski said. “We have pitching, defense, and a very versatile lineup with speed, power, and just good overall hitters. The coaches are doing a great job preparing us for the upcoming games and I feel like we have a chance to be really good this year.”

Kent State could attribute the early struggles to not being able to play outside until the first game of the season, compared to teams further south who can practice outside almost year round.

The injury bug has also hit the Flashes, as a total of seven players are sidelined. Two players are out for the year with a few others expected to return to the lineup later on. Injuries are tough to overcome, but the Flashes believe they can figure out how to move past it.

“I think guys will step up and nothing will change,” Lewandowski said. “We will continue to work hard and play Kent State baseball. Everyone on the team needs to be ready for their name to be called. We have a solid group of young guys, and the older guys are great leaders to follow.”

The team currently stands at 4-10 after the 14-game road trip and will return home for four games, with one against Youngstown State on Tuesday and will follow that with a three game stint with Northwestern starting on Saturday.

“The road trips were very fun, being a team from Kent we don’t get outside much because of the weather,” Lewandowski said. “It was good for us to play in some warm weather and just get outside.”

John Conley is a sports reporter. Contact him [email protected]