Defensive blunders doom Flashes in 6-4 loss to Miami

Sophomore infielder Zarley Zalewski makes contact with a pitch at the game against Miami University Sunday, April 13, 2014. The Flashes played a three game tournament winning two out of the three games.

Richie Mulhall

Four unearned runs made the difference in the Kent State baseball team’s 6-4 loss to Miami in the series finale between the two MAC adversaries Sunday at Schoonover Stadium.

The Flashes (22-12, 9-3 Mid-American Conference) defeated the Miami Redhawks (14-20 MAC) Friday and Saturday and were looking for the sweep Sunday at Schoonover Stadium.

Sunday, however, was not the Flashes’ day.

Kent State committed four total errors as the Redhawks capitalized to add four unearned runs on top of two earned runs to spoil the weekend sweep.

Bad defense — the albatross around Kent State’s neck that has led to the Flashes’ demise on more than one occasion in recent weeks.

“It was one of those games where we kind of beat ourselves,” Kent State head coach Jeff Duncan said of Sunday’s losing effort. “We had four errors, gave them extra outs, it’s hard to win on a day like this. We had opportunities to win.”

Great hitting and up-and-down defense seem to be the two common denominators for the Flashes this season. Offense seems to have overshadowed defensive lapses more often than not, but defense has still been an ongoing issue that has plagued the team ever since its 1-2 loss to Ohio last weekend.

Duncan said he has been working with his guys and stressing defense all week long, but poor defense forced the Flashes to lose the handle on a game they could have won.

“We’ve had some guys kind of getting in some fielding funks [against Ohio last weekend], and ever since then I think they’ve been lacking a little bit of confidence, and we’ve got to get that confidence back,” Duncan said.

The Flashes were soaring to start the matinee and took flight in the first inning yet again this season when they got to Miami starting pitcher Ryan Powers (3-3) and seized an early 1-0 lead.

With the wind whipping and whirling back and forth across Schoonover Stadium, junior outfielder Alex Miklos slashed a double down the left field line and made it all the way to third after the ball rattled into the corner until the Redhawks’ right fielder could retrieve it.

In the fourth inning, Miami’s first batter reached on an error and the next was hit by a pitch from junior starting pitcher Brian Clark. The next batter up smacked an RBI line drive to right, and the following batter squeezed a bunt down the first base line, and the Flashes couldn’t make a play on it.

The Redhawks tied up the game 2-2, and the Flashes’ wings grew heavy.

The blue and gold sticks had their way with the Redhawks in the first few innings, but once Powers settled in, he was in rhythm for the remainder of the game.

“[Powers] started establishing his fastball, and it opened up for his off-speed stuff, and he was very effective,” Duncan said. “He did a really good job keeping us off balance, especially when we had runners in scoring position. His scouting report says his slider isn’t usually for a strike a lot, but [Sunday] it was, and he had a good fastball behind it and we had a tough time getting a barrel on it.”

To quote Ty Linder, director of Kent State Broadcasting, the sixth inning was the “gift-wrapped” inning in which Kent State basically gave the ball game to Miami.

The Redhawks leadoff man reached on an error by redshirt-senior first baseman Cody Koch and advanced to second on a passed ball. Later in the inning, Miami’s center fielder Jake Romano attempted a sacrifice bunt and made it to second base thanks to a throwing error by Clark.  

Kent State got a much-needed double play—which would be Clark’s last play on the mound—but the Redhawks scored an unearned run and took the lead 3-2.

Redshirt-senior outfielder Jon Wilson, who went 2-4 on the day with a couple of hits and two runs, said the errors the team committed were mental errors that took the life out of a Kent State team that absolutely surged in the previous two games against the Redhawks.

“A lot of times when you make defensive errors like that, a lot of times it’s just mental,” Wilson said.“Sometimes it’s just energy, not bringing the focus and energy. We can control those things, and that’s why it’s frustrating.”

The Flashes moved within one run of the lead in the eighth when sophomore infielder Justin Wagler skied a ball deep to left-center field that left the yard and sailed just over the 385 mark.

Despite Wagler’s efforts to rally a comeback, Kent State could not answer in its half of the final inning as Miami held on to win 6-4.

After the game, Duncan acknowledged his team’s missed opportunities to score, and the opportunities they gave Miami to pull away.

“[The Redhawks] were going to be biting and scratching, and we just gave them some free outs, and that’s what happens,” Duncan said.

The Flashes will continue their long home stand as they take on Wright State Tuesday for the second time this season. The first time these two teams played each other, Kent State came out on top 9-7 in extra innings.

Tuesday’s game is set to begin at 6 p.m.

Contact Richie Mulhall at [email protected].