Struggling Penguins narrowly edge Flashes 5-4 in third straight loss for Kent State

Richie Mulhall

Rain clouds eclipsed Kent State’s campus all day Wednesday as a torrential downpour flooded the Esplanade and caused wet patches to form on the field at Schoonover Stadium.

Inclement weather forced the Kent State baseball team’s (28-16, 12-6 Mid-American Conference) away game Tuesday to be canceled, but it was not heavy enough to stop the team from playing at least one midweek game this week.

Ominous grey clouds loomed over Kent State and cast a dark shadow over Schoonover Stadium Wednesday night as the Kent State baseball team hosted Youngstown State (10-28) for a one-game series.

Unfortunately for the hometown team eager to play after being rained out Tuesday, the gloomy, overcast atmosphere reflected the overall mood and pace of the game. The Flashes could not get anything going from either side of the plate Wednesday night and fell to Youngstown State 5-4.

Kent State head coach Jeff Duncan, who normally takes every win and every loss in an equally positive stride, said he was extremely disappointed by the loss, especially to a struggling team like Youngstown State that has only won 10 games this season.

“I wasn’t extremely happy with our at-bats one through nine for the most part,” Duncan said. “We had opportunities to put them away early and we just couldn’t quite cash in,” Duncan said. “We left a lot of runners on base early, there’s no excuse for that. We let [Youngtown State] hang around, and that’s what can happen, especially at your own place.”

The first four innings of the ball game lagged on with neither team able any kind of offense in the early going of the contest. Both Kent State and Youngstown State couldn’t seem to find that offensive firepower they sought.

Kent State pitcher Andy Ravel (3-1, 3.19 ERA) started the game for the Flashes. The true freshman threw just three scoreless innings with only two hits and four pitch. His performance, along with Penguins starting pitcher Jared Wight’s performance, were seamless, but both teams took their starting pitchers out after the third inning to make sure more pitchers got into the game. Duncan said he likes to allow a lot of pitchers to get their work in during a typical midweek game.

Kent State used seven pitchers in Wednesday’s game, and Youngstown State used six.

“Our last three games, that’s what it’s been like,” Duncan said of the amount of Kent State pitchers who saw the mound Wednesday night.

Kent State finally scored first in the bottom half of the fifth inning with three runs. Sophomore third baseman Justin Wagler led off the inning with a base hit single that hopped off the heel off the third baseman’s glove and skipped into right field.

Following Wagler’s at-bat, redshirt freshman infielder Curtis Olvey displayed good discipline at the plate and drew a walk, and then junior infielder Sawyer Polen loaded the bases with a bloop hit that dropped in front of the Penguins’ centerfielder for a single.

The rest of the inning, for the most part, was a gift-wrapped inning for the Flashes, courtesy of Youngstown State.

Wagler scored and Polen advanced to second on a wild pitch, redshirt senior outfielder Jon Wilson singled and junior outfielder Alex Miklos was hit by a pitch to load the stations again. Redshirt senior first baseman Cody Koch reached on a fielder’s choice, which allowed Polen to trot home safely due to an error by Youngstown State’s catcher, and Wilson scored Kent State’s second unearned run of the inning on a passed ball.

The only negative take on the three-run inning, Duncan said, was the fact that Kent State did not score more runs in the inning.

“We had the bases loaded a few times, but early in the game, especially when we put that three spot up, we should have put up five or six at least. We had the bases loaded with Cody up, he check swings, we still got a run in there, but that’s not Cody Koch by any means. We need to have better at-bats in that situation.”

Even though Kent State put up three runs in the fifth inning, they stranded two runners on base when sophomore designated hitter Zarley Zalewski and senior outfielder T.J. Sutton, two of the top sluggers on the team, struck out to end the inning.

“We had an opportunity to put them away, and they get out of that inning just allowing three runs and they come back and respond with a four spot.”

The Penguins bounced back in the sixth with a double, single and walk to load the bases. Youngstown State third baseman Matt Sullivan handed the Flashes their biggest blow in the inning with a grand slam that emptied the bases and gave the Penguins a one-run lead.

The Flashes pitched a good, fundamentally sound game other than that inning when redshirt sophomore Eli Martin gave up the four-run blast.

“They’ve put up big innings on us again tonight. I don’t like to look back much, but when you look back at this past weekend, we gave up three big innings and then we did the same thing today.”

Kent State continued to struggle from behind the plate after the fifth inning, too. The team left the bases loaded in the sixth because of a double play, stranded a runner at second in the seventh and left the bases loaded yet again in the eighth.

The Flashes hottest hitter in the month of April stepped up to the dish in the bottom of the eighth with two outs and the bases loaded. With two strikes on him, Koch unloaded a monster swing and missed for strike three to end the inning.

Koch was swinging for the fences in his last at-bat of the ball game when all he really needed to do was swing for any of the gaps in left, center or right field.

“I think he got a little big, chased some pitches up in the zone,” Duncan said. “He’s a good hitter, and he’s not going to be the guy every time. Other guys need to step up as well and come up big in those situations.”

The only other time Kent State got on the scoreboard was in the bottom of the seventh inning when Koch cracked a solo shot that pierced the dense, humid air, soared through the bleak sky and carried over the wall in left. His sixth homerun of the season tied the game, but Youngstown State scored the game-winning run in the top half of the ninth.

“It’s just one of those things, we gotta battle through this and we got a big series coming up this weekend, and we need to look forward to [turning things around]” Duncan said. [turning things around]

MAC competition for the Flashes resumes this weekend as Kent State hosts Northern Illinois Friday and Saturday at 6 p.m. and Sunday at 1p.m.

Contact Richie Mulhall at [email protected].