Flashes baseball accept challenge, claim conference lead


Sophomore pitcher Brian Clark pitches to Ohio University at Kent State’s game on Sunday, Aril 7. The Flashes won 10-3. Photo by Chloe Hackathorn.

Kevin Battaglia

Kent State knew going into the weekend that it would be presented with a challenge at conference-leading Miami.

The Flashes (17-16, 9-3 Mid-American Conference) rose to the challenge and showed why they are the defending MAC champions and still the team to beat in the conference with a three-game sweep of Miami (14-18, 7-5 MAC) during the weekend in Oxford, Ohio.

The sweep gives the Flashes sole possession of first place in the conference and drops Miami to third place, one game behind Buffalo, whom Kent State will play next weekend.

“This is where we hoped we’d be,” Flashes’ head coach Scott Stricklin said. “To be 9-3 after the first four series of the year and be in first place, that’s where we wanted to be.”

Flashes pitcher Taylor Williams said last week that the Flashes would need to compete in order to come out with a series win.

Williams (6-1, 2.22) set the tone for the series in the Flashes’ 2-1 victory Friday. The junior earned his sixth win of the season after throwing seven innings, allowing one run while striking out 11 batters. Brian Clark (3) relieved Williams for two innings and struck out four batters to grab his third save of the season.

Miami scored its lone run off Williams when Alex Johnson hit a single to centerfield to score Matt Hochel in the third inning to take a 1-0 lead. The Flashes would answer with two runs in the eighth inning. Pinch-hitter Tommy Monnot scored Alex Miklos on double to left field. Monnot would score on a bases load walk to Evan Campbell a few batters later that gave Kent State a 2-1 lead.

The second game provided less drama but plenty more offense.

Flashes’ pitcher Tyler Skulina displayed why he was given an All-American honor in the offseason while working behind an offense that scored nine runs in a 9-0 Flashes’ victory Saturday.

It was déjà vu for the Redhawks, as Skulina (2-3, 4.61) did his best to mimic Williams’ performance from the previous game. Skulina allowed one hit while he struck out 10 batters in eight innings pitched. He earned his second win of the season after Eric Dorsch came in relief and retired Miami’s batters in the ninth inning.

The Kent State offense aided Skulina by delivering nine runs on 14 hits in nine innings. The lineup featured eight of nine starters recording at least one hit. The production forced Miami to pull their starting pitcher Mac Thoreson after 4 2/3 innings of work in which he allowed eight earned runs.

The scoring started in the first inning when George Roberts doubled to right-center field that scored Campbell. Roberts scored after designated hitter Jason Bagoly singled to left field to give the Flashes a 2-0 advantage. Monnot would add on to the Kent State lead with his first career home run, a two-run shot over the left field wall that scored Miklos in the fourth inning. The Flashes scored four runs in the fifth inning to put the game out of reach from the Redhawks, 8-0. Campbell added on the final run on a single to centerfield that scored Derek Toadvine in the eighth inning.

The Flashes’ offense stayed hot throughout the third and final game of the series. Kent State scored 13 runs on 10 hits, while the Flashes’ pitching held Miami to two runs on eight hits in a 13-2 win Sunday.

The Flashes scored two runs in the second and third inning, five runs in the fifth inning and four runs in the seventh inning. Bagoly added his first home run of the season with a deep drive to left field that scored Roberts in the third inning. Bagoly finished with three RBI while Miklos, Monnot, Sutton and Toadvine each had two.

The Redhawks’ only threat in the game came in the third inning with Kent State leading 4-0. Kevin Bower doubled down the left field line to score Honchel. Bower would score on a Scott Slappey single to left field that cut the Flashes’ lead to 4-2.

Kent State pitcher Casey Wilson (4-3) topped off a weekend of what Stricklin called “great starting pitching” by pitching five innings, allowing two runs on six hits and striking out and walking three batters each.

The Flashes’ series finished with the bullpen allowing three runs on 17 hits, with 32 strikeouts and 11 walks in 27 innings, the defense committing only three errors and the offense driving in 24 runs. It was an all-around performance that Stricklin called “Kent State baseball.”

“This is the way we played last year when we started playing so well,” Stricklin said. “This is the best three games that we’ve put together so far this year. It’s encouraging that we’re getting better and making progress. Those best three games couldn’t have happened at a better time.”

Despite the dominating performance against a team previously leading the MAC, Stricklin does not see this as a statement series for the rest of the conference.

“We played really well,” he said. “Certainly people know that we have a good club and we’re going to be in the mix to win another championship, but we’re just trying to worry about ourselves and not anybody else.”

Kent State will head home for two non-conference games against Niagara at 5 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday.

Contact Kevin Battaglia at [email protected].