Baseball records first series victory of season

Kevin Battaglia

Last weekend, the Kent State baseball team took what they called a “step in the right direction” after beating Louisville in the series finale, ending the Cardinals’ nine-game winning streak.

This weekend at UNC-Charlotte, the Flashes took an even bigger step by recording their first series win of the season.

Kent State (4-10) was one game away from sweeping the series from the Charlotte 49ers (10-4), winning two of three games this weekend in Charlotte, N.C.

The lone loss came by walk-off fashion, 5-4, after second baseman Brad Elwood singled in the bottom of the ninth inning to score center fielder Michael Green.

After recording four runs on seven hits in the first four innings, the Flashes’ offense disappeared. Kent State led 4-1 after the fourth inning before the 49ers’ pitching duo of Tyler Barnette and Sean Geoghegan retired 16 straight Flashes’ batters.

Flashes’ head coach Scott Stricklin thought the team relaxed a bit after earning the lead early in the game.

“As hitters you can’t do that,” he said. “You always have to stay on the offensive and be aggressive and I thought we got a little bit passive.”

The 49ers’ win spoiled an impressive performance from Flashes’ pitcher Tyler Skulina, who threw seven innings and only allowed two earned runs. Skulina, who received the no decision, also struck out nine batters and walked one. Shortstop Derek Toadvine led the offense with two hits, two runs, a run batted in and two stolen bases.

The Flashes were able to respond and win the second game of the series, 2-1, behind a complete game performance from pitcher Taylor Williams (2-1). Williams dominated the 49ers’ batters, tossing 110 pitches in nine innings pitched. He finished the game allowing eight hits, one earned run, walking one while striking out three batters.

The defense also chipped in a stellar performance behind Williams without surrendering an error for the first time all season. Stricklin stated it is unacceptable to have the first errorless game happen 13 games into the season. He added the defense has been disappointing early this season but it will improve in time.

“The defense has to get better for us to be a championship team and I think it will,” Stricklin said. “When you pitch and you play defense, you’re going to win.”

The difference came in the sixth inning with the Flashes trailing 1-0. Kent State tied the game at one on a groundout before right fielder Troy Summers doubled to score shortstop Sawyer Polen to give the Flashes a 2-1 lead. Polen and catcher Jeff Revesz finished with multi-hit games.

Before the game, Stricklin took a different approach to his starting lineup by inserting some fresh faces and switching guys at different positions. He said it is a way to establish depth on the team and create some different options for later in the season.

“All of the guys work hard and they deserve some opportunities,” Stricklin said. “As we get further on into the year we’re going to establish that depth that’s going to allow us to be a much better team.

In the series finale, the Flashes used a bit of two out magic to win the game in extra innings, 7-5. With runners on second and first and two outs, centerfielder Evan Campbell tripled to score Cody Koch and Alex Miklos, breaking a 5-5 tie.

Campbell and Polen led the Flashes on offense combining to hit .500 (5-10), scoring two runs, driving in four RBI and stealing two bases.

Pitcher Brian Clark (1-1) recorded his first win of the season while teammate Nick Jensen-Clagg (1) earned his first save.

Going into the series, Kent State had eight stolen bases in 11 attempts as a team on the year. In the three games at Charlotte, the Flashes recorded eight more steals in nine attempts (16-20 on the year). Stricklin credited the players for being more aggressive on the base paths this weekend.

The Flashes’ next trip will be to Memphis, Tenn. for a three-game series starting Friday. Stricklin believes the team still has some things it needs to work on but is improving.

“To win the weekend, win the series and come back to Kent with the first series win is a positive we can hope to build on,” Stricklin said.

Contact Kevin Battaglia at [email protected].