Flashes look to turn corner during weekend trip to Charlotte

Kevin Battaglia

The Kent State baseball team believes last weekend’s 3-2 series finale victory over the Louisville Cardinals will help turn the page from their slow start to the season.

Kent State (2-9) will try to continue the momentum when they travel to play North Carolina-Charlotte (9-2) in a three-game series this weekend starting at 4 p.m. Friday in Charlotte, N.C.

“I think we’ve gotten back on track after that last win,” sophomore third baseman Sawyer Polen said. “We have a lot of confidence going into this weekend.”

Charlotte comes into the series owning a five-game winning streak and coming off a 5-4 victory over Wake Forest Tuesday.

Head coach Scott Stricklin said Charlotte has been successful due to executing a little bit of everything. He added they do not do anything spectacular, such as hit home runs or steal a lot of bases.

“They just play good solid baseball,” Stricklin said. “It’s going to be a tough challenge.”

The matchup of the weekend will be how the Flashes’ pitching staff will fare against Charlotte’s offense.

The 49ers as a team are hitting .307, scoring 75 runs and driving in 60 RBI. They have also drawn 44 walks and 11 hit by pitches in 375 at-bats, two categories that have plagued the Flashes’ pitching staff. In 92.2 innings, Flashes’ pitchers have surrendered 40 walks and 7 hit batsmen.

Stricklin said he believes the bullpen is improving and that it was encouraging to see them do well against a tough Louisville team last weekend. He knows how important pitching and defense will be in the series against Charlotte.

“Bottom line, we just have to play defense. Our bullpen has just been OK,” Stricklin said. “It is good to see that bullpen get better [last weekend]. If we play good baseball, take care of the baseball and we throw strikes, I like our chances this weekend at Charlotte.”

Despite the bullpen’s early struggles, the Flashes’ offense has shown consistency from the beginning of the season and has done it against tough pitching staffs.

The offense comes into the series batting .266, scoring 55 runs, driving in 47 RBI and drawing 40 walks. Kent State will challenge a 49er bullpen that has allowed a 2.78 earned run average in 97 innings.

Stricklin likes the way his team is progressing and said things are starting to come together.

On Tuesday, junior outfielder T.J. Sutton was named Mid-American Conference East Division Player of the Week. In three games against Louisville, the junior batted .700 (7-10), scored two runs and drove in an RBI.

Stricklin thinks Sutton is getting into a groove after starting off slow.

“He’s got a lot of experience,” Stricklin said. “We need him to be that type of player.”

Sutton’s award marks the second time this season a Kent State player has been honored with a weekly conference award. Junior pitcher Taylor Williams was named MAC East Division Pitcher of the Week last month for his performance against the University of North Carolina in Wilmington.

Stricklin also said All-American George Roberts is aiming to be back for the conference opener Friday, March 22 at Northern Illinois. Roberts has been out since Feb. 15 with a broken left wrist and had surgery last week to remove his hamate bone.

“I like the way he’s progressing,” Stricklin said. “We feel like he’s going to be ready to go in a couple weeks.”

Contact Kevin Battaglia at [email protected].