Flashes hope to get back on track as they face two struggling teams this week


Jacob Byk

Freshman pitcher Andy Ravel throws a fast ball during the baseball game against Penn State, April 22, 2014.

Richie Mulhall

After two devastating losses to Bowling Green this past Saturday and Sunday, the Kent State baseball team will look to snap its two-game weekend skid this week as the Flashes get set to face two familiar foes.

Leading off for the opposition, Penn State (17-23), which has been on the decline in recent weeks, will host the Flashes (28-15, 11-16 Mid-American Conference) Tuesday as Kent State travels to University Park to get a second look at the Nittany Lions.

The Flashes will then return home Wednesday to host a rematch with a laboring Youngstown State team (9-28).

Although these two stagnant teams are having rough seasons, Kent State Coach Jeff Duncan said he will stick to the same game plan, whether the opponent has 20 wins or five wins.

“Nothing changes,” Duncan said. “We’re gonna stick to the same plan. If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it.”

In their first meeting, the Flashes defeated the Nittany Lions 4-1 just last Tuesday at home, but the last time the Flashes faced the Penguins in a doubleheader April 8 on the road, they split the series. Youngstown State got the last laugh, though, topping the Flashes 7-4 in a game in which defensive errors betrayed the Flashes.

Penn State hasn’t tasted victory since April 11, when the Nittany Lions overcame fellow Big Ten team Ohio State 5-4. Since that victory, Penn State has accumulated fall after fall in the loss column and currently rides a nine-game losing streak into Tuesday.  

The Nittany Lions only have one consistent, everyday batter hitting over .279 and from a pitching stance, the outlook isn’t much brighter. They only have four pitchers with an ERA under 4.00, and three of those pitchers have less than 10 appearances this season.

As for the Penguins, although they might not have lost as many games in a row as Penn State, they are certainly no strangers to a lopsided win-loss column loss this season.

They began their season in February with a 1-5 record, and that record has pretty much set the pace for a season that has now become a lost one for Youngstown State.

Abysmal records like Youngstown State’s, though, can make a losing team dangerous. The Penguins will come into Wednesday’s game with virtually nothing to lose.

Kent State, on the other hand, must keep up its winning ways if it wants to stay atop the standings in the MAC East Division. The team is also still chasing Ball State, who has a 2.5 game lead over Kent State and Central Michigan for the overall conference lead.    

“Whether we win or not, we’re gonna compete, and I guarantee you we’re gonna play good baseball here these last few weeks,” Duncan said.

Kent State does not want to lose any more ground on Ball State in the overall MAC lead when it returns to MAC competition after the Penn State and Youngstown State games. Ball State already widened the record gap between the two teams this past weekend after the Flashes fell to Bowling Green 8-6 Saturday and 12-5 Sunday.

The Flashes were ahead with a 5-2 lead after six and a half innings Sunday afternoon until the Falcons took the game under siege in the seventh and eighth innings, posting five runs in each of those innings to suddenly seize a 12-5 advantage that would ultimately be the Flashes final demise of the game.

“We just couldn’t really pitch out of [that inning] and it just strongly got out of control,” Duncan said. “[The second Youngstown State game from earlier this season] happened to us twice that weekend. This stuff happens in baseball at times; you’d like to eliminate some of it, but I think these guys are tired of it, and I think they’re gonna move forward from it.”

Duncan, who will tell you himself that he does not like his team to get too bogged down by a loss, said he is positive that his team will be able to dig itself out of the hole and make up for the losses with two great midweek games against Penn State and Youngstown State.

“We’ve got an opportunity to continue to grow, and we have a chance to be a special team,” Duncan said. “We’ve got the ability; we’ve got a lot of young parts, but they’re growing. We just gotta continue to get better. We just need to stay in the right state of mind.”

Under Duncan, the team takes the season in stride, one game at a time.

“We gotta win tomorrow, we gotta win the day tomorrow and get better, whether we go to Penn State or it gets rained out and we practice,” Duncan said. “We gotta win that day tomorrow.”

One player in particular who will be essential to the Flashes this week is first baseman Cody Koch.

The MAC announced Monday that Koch was named the MAC East Player of the Week for his performance in this past week’s five games.

The senior slugger carried Kent State’s offense on his back this past weekend, going nine-for-13 on the series to boost his batting average to .344 on the year — and that’s not all.

He batted .600 through the five games with four doubles and two dingers that swelled his slugging percentage to 1.100 for the weekend. He went three-for-four with two double and a homer in back-to-back days Friday and Saturday. He also had an on-base percentage of .636 this past week.

“I’m real happy for Cody because he’s had the opportunity to make the most of it all year,” Duncan said of Koch. “He’s done it all year, and he’s been good all year really. He fell off during that home stand just a little bit and he kinda cooled off there for a bit, but he still had some good at-bats.”

Koch had six RBIs in the Bowling Green series, two of which came from Saturday and Sunday’s big bombs.

“It’s important to us for him to continue to stay consistent,” Duncan said.

Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s games will begin at 6 p.m.

Contact Richie Mulhall at [email protected].