Kent State Baseball team hyped for showdown at conference leading Redhawks

Kevin Battaglia

Rarely does a series in the middle of the season hold as much significance as the one the Kent State baseball team will play this weekend.

Kent State (14-16, 6-3 Mid-American Conference) will have an opportunity to grab the lead in the conference when they play at rival Miami (14-15, 7-2 MAC) for a weekend series starting at 6 p.m. Friday in Oxford, Ohio.

Miami currently holds first place in the MAC standings and leads the Flashes by one game in the East Division going into the weekend series.

“We still have a long way to go in the season, but this is an important weekend for both teams,” Flashes head coach Scott Stricklin said.

Senior third baseman George Roberts said the team is prepared for what’s ahead.

“This is definitely a big one,” Roberts said. “[Miami] is always ready to play us. It’s always a pretty big rivalry between us two. They play us better than anyone in the MAC, but we’re always ready to play them. This could be the series that decides who wins the division.”

Stricklin said his team just needs to play “good and clean baseball” in order to come out on top this weekend. That includes throwing strikes, playing good defense and having good at-bats.

“We’re just looking to get back on track by being consistent and doing the things the way that we’re supposed to be doing them,” Stricklin said.

He added the Redhawks are a good team that, like the Flashes, pride themselves on pitching, defense and timely hitting. Miami’s offense runs through last season’s MAC freshman of the year, Matt Honchel. The leadoff hitter for the Redhawks has hit for a .347 average, scored 26 runs and drove in 15 RBI. He also possesses speed, registering seven doubles and a team-leading 10 stolen bases.

“He just gets on base,” Stricklin said. “We’ve just got to keep him off base. That’s the key to the weekend. Don’t let him start off the game or the inning on base and allow him to manufacture some things.”

Kent State and Miami look identical on paper and play a similar style, which will make for an interesting series. The Flashes’ offense is batting .272 with a bullpen that is holding opposing teams to a .265 average and a 4.92 ERA in 261 1/3 innings. They will face off against a Redhawks’ offense hitting .268 with their bullpen holding opponents to a .271 average and a 4.93 ERA in 257 1/3 innings.

“I think it shows up to this point that we’re fairly evenly matched,” Stricklin said. “Hopefully, after this weekend, we can separate ourselves. We’re a good team but we haven’t necessarily played like it all the time and [Miami] has been a little up and down. Someone’s going to establish themselves at the top of the conference after this week.”

Flashes’ starting pitcher Taylor Williams (5-1, 2.33) will try to set the tone for the series when he throws against the Redhawks’ Brooks Fiala (4-3, 3.05) in the first game Friday. Williams was asked what it will take to set the tone for the rest of the series.

“Compete. That’s about the most important thing you can do is just compete,” he said. “Competing and having energy hopefully will draw the other eight guys on the field to follow.”

Both teams come into the series looking for a win. The Redhawks are coming off a 7-6 loss at Xavier Wednesday and have lost three in a row. The Flashes’ last game was a 3-2 loss at Penn State Tuesday after a game against Toledo was postponed due to weather Wednesday.

The all-time record between the two teams belongs to the Flashes. Kent State a 98-76-1 advantage against Miami. The Flashes swept the Redhawks in three games last season.

Despite the attention of the weekend series, Mid-American Conference accolades continue to fall in the hands of Kent State players.

Roberts was named Mid-American Conference East Division Player of the Week on Tuesday. He hit .526 with four doubles and 10 RBI in five games for the week. He became the sixth Kent State player to earn the award this season joining teammates Taylor Williams (2), T.J. Sutton and Sawyer Polen.

“The biggest thing is for us to win, and that’s how I’ll always be,” Roberts said. “[The awards] are nice to have but they’re not the biggest thing.”

Contact Kevin Battaglia at [email protected].