Offensive explosion propels Flashes to series win over Bulls


Kent State red shirt junior Mason Mamarella bunts down the third-base line in the first inning during the second game of a double-header against University at Buffalo at Schoonover Stadium on Sunday, April 2, 2017. Kent State won 14-0. 

Nick Buzzelli

Junior pitcher Eli Kraus doesn’t mind pitching in the cold.

In fact, the Kent State left-hander prefers when the temperature hovers around 40 degrees. He finds that hitters tend to get more “complacent” at the plate when the weather is chilly.

He surrendered an early unearned run in the top of the first inning on a brisk Saturday afternoon against the University at Buffalo.

But then Kraus settled down and threw six consecutive scoreless innings to help the Flashes (17-8, 5-1 Mid-American Conference) to a 9-1 victory and, ultimately, a MAC series win over the Bulls (8-16, 1-2 MAC) this weekend at Schoonover Stadium.

“You’re always a little bit vulnerable in the first inning. You’re fresh out there, you come straight from the bullpen, you sit for a minute. Giving up the run in the first inning, you got to kind of teach yourself to not get too phased from it and that it does happen,” Kraus told Kent State Athletics following Saturday’s game. “I love pitching in this weather, I love pitching in the cold. I would take pitching in this weather nine times out of ten. I really do like it.”

Trailing 1-0 in the bottom of the second, sophomore first baseman Pete Schuler smacked a two-run homer to right-centerfield to put the Flashes on top. Junior catcher Tim DalPorto doubled and scored two more runs in the following inning.

But it was Kent State’s four-run eighth inning — sparked by a single by junior outfielder Mason Mamarella, a double to centerfield by junior outfielder Dylan Rosa and a DalPorto RBI groundout — that put the game out of reach.

Kraus picked up his fifth win of the season by striking out five batters in seven innings of work while relievers Patrick Dayton and Austin Havekost each threw one scoreless inning.

“One thing with (Kraus) is, as a Friday starter, you want a guy who can compete and battle through, no matter what happens. And he does that,” Flashes manager Jeff Duncan told Golden Flashes TV. “I think he did that last week, too, when Ball State throws a three spot on him in the first inning and then he settled down and throws a bunch of zeros up and gives us 6 2/3 or whatever it was. Same thing today … he just settles in and puts six straight zeros up.”

The Bulls, however, bounced back in the first game of Sunday’s double header and used starting pitcher Charlie Sobieraski’s three-hit, seven-inning outing to pick up the 9-2 victory, their first in league play.

Kent State junior pitcher Zach Willeman surrendered five runs — four of which were earned — in five innings of work in the loss.

When the series finale began shortly after the first game’s final out, though, the Flashes used their previously dormant offensive firepower to close out Sunday with 14 runs on 17 hits in the shutout win.

Kent State put up nine runs in the bottom of the first – four of which came via Schuler’s grand slam – and added two more in the second and third innings, respectively, before scoring one final run on a passed ball in the fourth.

Schuler led his team with five runs batted in while 11 Flashes collected hits.

Sophomore pitcher Joey Murray notched his fourth win by striking out 11 in six innings while relievers John Matthews, Zach Shultz and Zach Spangler each threw a scoreless inning to preserve the shutout, the Flashes’ fourth of the season.

“We talk about protecting our house here and making sure we protect our homeland. We’ve been very good on the road and now we got to switch things up and be at home and the routine changes a little bit,” Duncan said. “But I think we’re very comfortable at home and we’re ready to go.”

The Flashes will be back in action this Tuesday when they play a home game against Youngstown State on Tuesday. First pitch is scheduled for 4 p.m.

Nick Buzzelli is a sports reporter, contact him at [email protected].