Flashes baseball prepares for back-to-back games


Freshman Zarley Zalewski slides into third base during Kent State’s home game against Ball State on Saturday, March 30 at Schoonover Stadium. The Flashes won their first game with a final score of 11-5, but fell to Ball State in the second game, 4-3. Photo by Zane Lutz.

Kevin Battaglia

Kent State (10-14, 4-2 Mid-American Conference) will try to improve its conference record at 3 p.m. today in Toledo against Toledo (10-14, 3-3 MAC).

Head coach Scott Stricklin said Toledo is a well-coached team that has relied on its pitching.

“Pitching wins a lot of games in college baseball,” Stricklin said. “Their pitching is what they’ve always done a pretty good job with, and that’s what we’re expecting to see.”

The Rockets’ bullpen owns a 5.08 ERA, holding opponents to a .279 average. The Flashes as a team are batting .266 with 107 RBI and 125 runs scored.

The Flashes will send pitcher John Birkbeck (0-0, 27.00 ERA) to the mound to throw against the Rockets’ Jared Locke (0-2, 5.73 ERA). Birkbeck will be making his first start of the season in a game in which Stricklin said he may use up to six pitchers.

Toledo is led by infielder Matt Delewski on offense. The senior is batting .367 with 17 RBI and 14 runs scored on the season.

Kent State leads the all-time series with Toledo 84-61-1. Last season, the two teams split the season series.

Following their game at Toledo, the Flashes will return home to play a rare weekday home game against Penn State (5-18, 0-6 Big Ten Conference) at 5 p.m. Wednesday at Schoonover Stadium.

The Flashes and the Nittany Lions have played each other a total of eight times with each team winning four games.

Stricklin said Penn State is a young team still trying to establish who they are after the graduation of key players from last season’s team. The Nittany Lions come into the game owners of a 10-game losing streak.

Flashes’ pitcher Nick Jensen-Clagg (1-2, 7.56 ERA) will throw against Nittany Lions’ Ryan Harper (1-2, 3.80 ERA).

Stricklin likes the timing of the non-conference game against Penn State. He said it is an opportunity to establish depth on the field and the mound.

“We haven’t really been able to establish a lot of depth in our pitching [staff],” Stricklin said. “In order to win championships, you have to have a lot of depth on the mound.”

Kent State’s pitching staff, a group that has seen its ups and downs this season, will try to improve its 5.36 ERA. The Flashes have allowed 154 runs in 208 1/3 innings but have seen improvement in recent weeks. Kent State’s bullpen will be challenged by a Penn State team that is hitting .251, but struggling to score runs.

Despite the struggles of the pitching staff, the team has gained the attention of Mid-American Conference teams. Pitcher Taylor Williams was named MAC East Division Pitcher of the Week on Monday, receiving the award for the third time and becoming the fifth Flash to earn a MAC weekly award this season.

Williams was impressive during Kent State’s home opening 6-2 win Friday against Ball State. The junior tossed his second complete game of the season allowing two runs (one earned) on six hits, striking out eight batters and walking one. In 52 innings pitched, Williams owns a 5-1 record with a 1.90 ERA, including 45 strikeouts and six walks.

“He’s been outstanding.” Stricklin said. “He wants to win, he’s going to compete, he works hard and on top of that, he has outstanding stuff on the mound too. He’s been great for us and we just hope he can continue to throw the way he’s been throwing.”

Contact Kevin Battaglia at [email protected].