Baseball heads to No. 4 Louisville for weekend series


Junior infielder Derek Toadvine bunts against Northern Illinois on March 25, 2012. Photo by Grace Jelinek.

Kevin Battaglia

After a slow start to the season, Kent State will have its hands full with its next opponent as the Flashes try to get back to their winning success.

After recording its first win this past weekend at San Diego, Kent State (1-7) travels to Louisville (7-1) this weekend for a three-game series starting Friday.

With such high expectations to start the season, the Flashes are playing through a slump none of the players would have predicted.

“We haven’t really started off like this,” senior Evan Campbell said. “It’s going to be tough to turn this thing around. It’s not going to happen overnight. It’s something we have to work together as a team and decide we’re going to change. Put what we’ve done so far behind us and start fresh.”

The Flashes’ lone victory in 2013 was a 9-5 triumph over San Diego. In comparison, the Flashes’ record in February over the past three seasons is 13-7.

Head coach Scott Stricklin said he feels shocked by his team’s slow start.

“Coming into the year, I knew it was going to be a tough start,” Stricklin said. “I expected to take some losses, but I also expected to get some wins. I know how good we can be. We have the talent to be good, but that’s what’s really disappointing.”

Junior starting pitcher Tyler Skulina said if the Flashes want to start the month of March stronger, they will have to start with the bullpen and defense. The Flashes have committed 23 errors in 313 chances, while the bullpen has surrendered 59 earned runs in 67 innings pitched.

“As a pitching staff, we need to limit our walks and hit by pitches. It’s more of a mental approach,” Skulina said. “We need to just do the little things. Right now we’re beating ourselves.”

Junior pitcher Taylor Williams believes the bullpen’s slow start to the season is more about inexperience than lack of talent.

“We have some young guys coming in that haven’t thrown a lot, but we have a lot of talent in our pitching staff,” Williams said. “I think some guys are still learning the competitiveness and what it takes to get hitters out. Confidence and competitiveness comes with experience.”

Despite the bullpen and defense struggling, the offense has been a bright spot.

As a team, the Flashes are batting .280, with 47 runs scored and 39 runs batted in. The team has been getting contributions from everyone after losing All-American George Roberts to a broken wrist on opening day.

“It was a big loss to lose George Roberts, but a lot of our younger guys have stepped up and helped our offense,” junior shortstop Derek Toadvine said. “We just need to do a better job of getting runs in when runners are in scoring position. Other than that, I think our bats have been swinging pretty well.”

Campbell said the Flashes will need to do all they can if they want to beat Louisville and come out with their first series win of the season. He believes the team just needs to relax.

“I always thought we turned the page from last season,” Campbell said. “Obviously people have had high expectations for us. We just really need to get it together and just play and have fun.”

Louisville comes into the series ranked fourth by Baseball America. The Cardinals are coming off a 13-4 victory over Morehead State Tuesday and previously swept the Flashes’ Mid-American Conference rival Akron, outscoring them 17-1 in three games.

The Cardinals are hitting .323 as a team with 66 runs scored and 56 RBI. The bullpen has been impressive with a 1.75 earned run average in 72 innings. Opposing hitters are only hitting .221 against Louisville pitchers.

The last series between the two teams was in 2011. The Cardinals swept the Flashes, winning games by scores of 3-2, 5-3 and 1-0. They had another meeting later that season that the Cardinals also won 11-2.

Skulina said the team will need to have the proper mindset to come out winners this time.

“We need to go in there with a chip on shoulder and show them how good we are and that we’re here to compete,” Skulina said.

Game one will start at 4 p.m. Friday in Louisville, Ky.

Contact Kevin Battaglia at [email protected].