First-place Flashes resume MAC competition, host Miami on Friday


Nick Jensen-Clagg pitches against the Toledo Rockets at Schoonover Stadium on Friday, March 21, 2014. The Flashes face Miami University this weekend, April 11-13 at Schoonover Stadium.

Richie Mulhall

The Kent State baseball team (20-11, 7-2 Mid-American Conference) is back on top.

Before the 2013-2014 season, the Flashes were the favorites to win the conference, and right now, those predictions don’t seem too far off.

After they split a doubleheader this past weekend against the Youngstown State Penguins, the Flashes are now atop the MAC East division and are only a game back from first place in the overall standings, trailing Central Michigan.

With their non-conference double header against the Penguins out of the way, the Flashes will dive back into conference play Friday as  they get set to host the Miami Redhawks (13-18, 4-5 MAC) for a three-game series this weekend at Schoonover Field.

The two MAC foes will clash for the first time since the Flashes defeated the Redhawks in last year’s MAC Tournament.

This season, the Redhawks are coming off a 4-7 loss to Cincinnati this past weekend. Even though Miami’s record is under .500, Kent State Coach Jeff Duncan said it will still be a team to watch out for, especially because it shares a spot with Kent State in the MAC East Division.

“They’re playing pretty solid baseball,” Duncan said. “They’re a very physical team, they got a good left-handed pitcher who’s going against us tomorrow. I think they’re pretty talented.”

The Flashes will look to improve their lead in the division and continue to swing the bat the way they have been lately. In the previous series against Youngstown State, the Flashes racked up 12 hits in the first game of the doubleheader and scored six runs in the seventh inning of their 11-7 victory.

“We were able to string like seven quality at-bats in a row to be able to score those runs, especially late in the game,” Duncan said.

When game two came along, Kent State went cold, and the team only scored four runs in the loss.

Duncan acknowledged that his team must remain focused offensively and defensively.

“An offense can stop like,” Duncan said as he clicked his fingers. “We just gotta continue to stay focused and play good fundamental defense. When you look at that Youngstown loss, fundamentally, we broke down defensively, so we got to continue to stay strong fundamentally on the defensive side.”  

Despite the Flashes’ one-game hiccup against Youngstown State, there’s no doubt Kent State bats have been hot, and Duncan can rest easy Thursday night knowing full well that he will be watching his ace on the mound Friday night to kick off the weekend series on the right foot.

They call him “The Phenom,” and this season, he has been nothing short of phenomenal.

Freshman starting pitcher Eric Lauer has been the real deal for the Flashes so far this season. Currently holding a 7-1 record and possessing a superb 1.90 ERA, Lauer gives Kent State that extra boost it needs to begin a weekend series firing on all cylinders. If recent history tells Kent State fans anything, having Lauer on the mound almost guarantees the Flashes a first-game advantage against their MAC foe.

“As a coach, I feel real comfortable putting [Lauer] on the mound on a Friday night,” Duncan said of Lauer. “He’s been really good all year.”

Lauer initially came out of the bullpen early on in the season, but Duncan said when he offered Lauer a chance to start and provided him a vital spot in the Flashes’ starting rotation, Lauer took the opportunity and “ran with it.” He has rapidly become Kent State’s top pitcher in the rotation and Duncan said he really complements the offense well when he takes the hill.

“I know I don’t have to have my best game every day,” Lauer said. “The other guys in the rotation and the relievers are really good, so I’m not too worried about having my best stuff every day, as long as I can throw strikes. I don’t expect to have such a good ERA. As long as I do my job and throw strikes, then everybody’s gonna make plays and score runs.”

The Flashes have definitely not had a problem scoring runs in recent weeks. Kent State has outscored its opponents 84-23 in its last seven games to boast a 6-1 record. The team has also had 10 or more hits in 12 of the last 15 games.

“It’s really important to stay consistent throughout our whole lineup instead of just having four or five hitters feeling hot because we got seven, eight, nine guys who are swinging the bat really well and putting together good at-bats,” Duncan said. “It’ll be a good series for us this weekend; we’ll look to continue to swing the hot bats.”

As the statistics stand, Kent State has emerged as the MAC powerhouse so far this season. The team leads the league in batting average, is second in ERA and third in fielding percentage after this past weekend against Youngstown State.

Contact Richie Mulhall at [email protected].