Long home stand concludes as Flashes baseball hosts Penn State, Malone

Kent+State+redshirt+junior+John+Fasola+follows+through+after+a+pitch+towards+the+end+of+the+game+against+University+of+Pittsburgh%2C+April+16%2C+2014.+The+Flahes+won%2C+4-1.

Kent State redshirt junior John Fasola follows through after a pitch towards the end of the game against University of Pittsburgh, April 16, 2014. The Flahes won, 4-1.

Richie Mulhall

The Kent State baseball team (25-13, 11-4 Mid-American Conference), fresh off its series victory over Buffalo, will take to the field at Schoonover Stadium for the final time of this long, 10-game home stand Tuesday and Wednesday to host Penn State and Malone, respectively.

Both games this week will begin at 6 p.m.

The Flashes will step outside of the conference for just a few games and hope to preserve their spot atop the MAC East division and potentially gain a slight edge in the entire league with a pair of midweek wins this week.

Right now, Kent State, which topped the standings in the preseason coaches’ poll, is a half game behind Ball State and one game behind Central Michigan for the overall advantage in the MAC.

If the Flashes can continue to win series and gain ground in the MAC, they could find themselves in first place before they know it.

This past weekend, Kent State took two out of three from the Buffalo Bulls at home. In the first game of the series, a new and refurbished Buffalo team shut out the Flashes 6-0.

Kent State had trouble getting out of the starting blocks and could not seem to get anything going both offensively and defensively. The team only had two hits from the plate, and the effort from the mound was not much better.

Pitchers could not locate the strike zone, and it seemed like every time they got a lock on it, Buffalo’s bats capitalized with a big hit.

After the bitter loss to a Bulls team that swept Kent State last season in three straight games, Kent State regrouped Saturday and Sunday and fought back with flurries of offense and a better pitching performance from sophomore starting pitcher Nick Jensen-Clagg.

The Flashes’ bats came alive as they collected 13 hits Saturday en route to an 8-4-comeback victory that evened the series score.

“I’m so proud of the way our guys handled themselves after losing,” Kent State Coach Jeff Duncan said. “Basically we just got flat-out beat Friday night, but we came back and just battled. We were extremely resilient on Saturday and Sunday.”

Junior outfielder Alex Miklos and sophomore designated hitter Zarley Zalewski led the way for the Flashes in the hitting department Saturday with three base knocks. Zalewski’s batting average, which has been dancing right around the .400 mark all season long, now rests at a solid .400, and Miklos is gaining on him with a .376 average.

With the series tied at one piece, Buffalo could not stop Kent State’s offensive resurgence as the Flashes pulled away in the series finale on Sunday and defeated the Bulls 7-4. The Bulls put up four runs in each of the last couple of games in the series, but they could not keep Kent State’s bats at bay, something many MAC teams have struggled to do as the Flashes maintain the third-best record in the MAC.

Junior infielder Sawyer Polen, who currently holds a .237 batting average so far this season, was an offensive catalyst on Sunday, racking up three hits, one of which was a solo homer in the third.

“[Polen] was a guy who batted .320 something last year, and he’s been struggling [this season] more so mentally than anything,” Duncan said. “Just seeing him put together at-bats like that, especially at a point in the game where we were really struggling off this pitcher they were throwing. He got us going and then we ended up scoring six runs late, so his at-bats were absolutely big times for us, and we couldn’t have won that game without him on Sunday.”

This week, Kent State will face two non-conference teams that, candidly, in the past couple weeks, have been scavenging for answers.

The Nittany Lions are currently on a five-game skid and Malone (17-22) has only won one out of its last five games. Most recently, both of these ball clubs also lost their previous series finales by narrow one-point margins.

Penn State (17-19) fell to Illinois Sunday 7-6 at University Park in a fierce battle between two Big Ten adversaries, and Ashland barely squeezed past the Pioneers 8-7 on the road.

“[Penn State] won every Big Ten series up until [the Illinois series],” Duncan said. “They’ll be looking to bounce back, Coach [Rob] Cooper does a good job, and I know they’re playing extremely hard for him.”

Duncan said his team needs to put its “pedal to the metal” this week and keep the ball rolling in this late spring months heading rapidly into the summer.

“We want to continue to build, especially when you got a team like Penn State coming in,” Duncan said. “Penn State’s playing well, and we want to continue to play well.”

Up-and-coming freshman pitcher Andy Ravel, who has only started two games this season, will take the mound for the Flashes against Penn State.

Ravel, who has come on in relief most of the time this season, has impressed Duncan with his recent relief appearances and earned a coveted spot in the starting rotation this week. So far this season, he is 2-1 with a 4.37 ERA.

Contact Richie Mulhall at [email protected].