Kent State bounces back with Tennessee sweep

Kent State pitcher Joey Murray throws a pitch during the Flashes’ 3-1 win over Lipscomb on Feb. 24, 2018. Murray struck out seven in a no decision. 

Cameron Hoover

After dropping a tough series at regional champs Sam Houston State on the season’s opening weekend, the Kent State (4-2) baseball team responded with a three-game sweep during the Southern Athletic Field Classic in Tennessee.

As part of the tournament, the Flashes played three games in as many days at three different venues in and around Nashville.

“Any time you go on the road and you go south, especially early in the year, it’s a great opportunity for us to play good baseball,” Kent State coach Jeff Duncan said. “I think all three of these games are going to help us out in terms of RPI.”

RPI, also known as rating percentage index, is a system used to rank a team’s postseason positioning based on the team’s wins and losses in comparison to its strength of schedule.

Kent State’s offense caught fire, plating 34 runs over the weekend’s three games, thanks in large part due to production from seniors Mason Mamarella and Tim Dalporto. Mamarella went 5-for-10 on the series, driving in eight runs and scoring five more. Dalporto blasted two home runs on the weekend, adding seven RBI.

Senior first baseman and designated hitter Brad Hamilton also teed off, whacking two more homers to bring his season total to four.

Duncan was impressed by his team’s ability to win multiple different ways.

“We had two blowout wins on the weekend, which is outstanding,” Duncan said, “but we also found a way to win when we were down 1-0 in the seventh inning against Lipscomb. All in all, it was a really good weekend for us in all three facets — offense, defense and pitching.”

Game 1: Kent State 17, Belmont 3

Two big innings — five runs in the second and seven in the ninth — led Kent State to a dominating win over the Bruins. Tim Dalporto and Brad Hamilton hit home runs for the Flashes, the first of the year for both seniors. Mason Mamarella went 3-for-3, adding two sacrifice flies to tally six RBI on the night. 

Nick Kanavas, Hamilton and Michael Turner all added multi-RBI games for the Flashes.

Kent State starter Eli Kraus notched his first win of the season, pitching 5.1 innings of seven-hit, three-run ball. Austin Havekost and Jack Zimmerman struck out six Bruins in their 3.2 combined innings of scoreless relief.

Game 2: Kent State 3, Lipscomb 1

Timely hitting led Kent State to its second win of the weekend, as a three-run seventh inning lifted the Flashes to a close victory over Lipscomb.

Senior catcher Jake Perry gave the Bisons a 1-0 lead in the third inning with a single to centerfield, scoring Lee Solomon. It was the only run Flashes starter Joey Murray would give up in his five innings of work, striking out seven.

The tides turned in Kent State’s favor with one out in the seventh, as a sacrifice fly from Mason Mamarella scored first baseman Pete Schuler. The Flashes broke the game open one batter later when a fielding error by Lipscomb’s Josh Martinez allowed two runs to come in.

Kent State’s bullpen put the clamps on any idea of a Bisons comeback, as Connor Wollersheim and closer Robert Ziegler combined to strike out seven in four innings of no-hit relief.

Game 3: Kent State 14, Middle Tennessee 5

Kent State’s Tim Dalporto had a monstrous game Sunday, going 2-for-5 with six RBI and a grand slam to lead the Flashes to a 14-5 pummeling over the Blue Raiders.

The Flashes led, 5-0, after three innings after Brad Hamilton put one over the wall in right field for his second dinger of the weekend and fourth of the season. Middle Tennessee added two homers of their own in the fourth inning and plated three runs in the bottom of the eighth to cut the Flashes lead to 8-5 heading into the final frame.

With one out in the top of the ninth and the bases loaded, Dalporto took Blue Raiders pitcher Drew Huff yard for his first grand slam of the season, effectively putting the game — and a Flashes sweep — on ice.

Kent State lefty starter Jared Skolnicki got his first win of the year, striking out five Blue Raiders over five innings of two-run ball.

Kent State returns to action for a three-game set at Winthrop, starting at 4 p.m. Friday at The Winthrop Ballpark in Rock Hill, South Carolina.

Cameron Hoover is the sports editor. Contact him at [email protected].