Baseball team off to Virginia for series at Liberty University

Tyler Kieslich

It is now early March and the deep-freeze of a cruel winter has yet to thaw. The promise of summer, with its summer sun and its summer games, is in this snowy northern town and still a dream deferred.

But for the Kent State baseball team, the season of green grass and chalked diamonds is already well under way. The 7-3 Flashes, now heading into the fourth weekend of a five-week season-opening southern tour, will begin a four-game series this Friday against Liberty University in Virginia.

The preseason MAC-favorites have had a hot start. Through ten games last season, a year that would eventually produce 36 Kent State victories and a regular-season conference championship, the Flashes had only managed a single win.

“We’ve played good baseball for the most part,” said Kent State Head Coach Jeff Duncan. “We’ve pitched it well, we’re scoring runs, we play solid defense, especially in crucial situations.”

Duncan was hired to replace former coach Scott Stricklin, who left the program after last season to take the reigns at Georgia just a year removed from leading the Flashes to the College World Series.

Last weekend, the Flashes held off late-inning threats from Middle Tennessee State in consecutive games, taking two victories in the three-game series.

“We’ve played four close ball games already in this early season and we’ve come out on top in all four of them,” said Duncan. “This team is really tough.”

Against Liberty, a preseason top-25 team off to an 8-6 start, Duncan said the biggest challenge will be the Flames’ stout pitching staff.

“They’ve been pitching really well,” said Duncan. “Their starters have been going deep in games. They haven’t been able to get their offense going yet, but they’re going to look to continue to get going against us.”

Liberty’s staff is anchored by right-hander Trey Lambert, who is set to start Friday’s game. Through three outings, Lambert has a 2.84 ERA and has given up just three walks in 19 innings of work.

Lambert will need to have his best stuff to stop Kent State’s sophomore infielder Zarley Zalewski from getting on base. Zalewski, the current MAC East player of the week, is currently hitting .467 and leads the Flashes in hitting, slugging and runs batted in.

“He’s just one of those guys who has a knack to find the barrel,” said Duncan. “Sometimes it isn’t always the prettiest, but he just has a knack to get hits.”

Sophomore pitcher Eric Lauer has been another key contributor to emerge for the Flashes in the early goings of the season. The 6’3” left-hander, who Baseball America named the No.14-best freshman in the country, has been nothing short of lights-out. He has three wins in as many appearance, a 1.42 ERA and has only given up six hits in 12 innings.

“He has an extreme amount of poise and talent,” said Duncan. “He understands what he does, for such a young kid. He trusts his ability. Sometimes it’s tough for a freshman to do that, but he really trusts what he does. [His fastball] will be anywhere from 88 to 92. His command has been great, and his slider has been going as well.”

Lauer is projected to start the first game of Saturday’s double-header against Liberty, which along with Friday and Sunday’s games, will be broadcast on ESPN3.

For Duncan and the Flashes, no matter who is watching it is important to put it all out there on the field.

“We play hard and we put a good product out there,” said Duncan. “We’re going to play hard, we’re going to play scrappy and we’ve got some talent as well.”

The first game against Liberty is set to start at 3 p.m. Friday. Two more are scheduled for Saturday at 1 and 4 p.m., with the final contest coming at 2 p.m. Sunday.

Contact Tyler Kieslich at [email protected].