Kent State baseball picks up confidence before going to Memphis


Sophomore infielder Derek Toadvine bunts against Northern Illinois on March 25, 2012 at Schoonover Baseball Stadium. Photo by Grace Jelinek.

Kevin Battaglia

After taking two of three games last weekend at UNC-Charlotte, the Kent State baseball team has found a resurgence of confidence.

Kent State (4-10) will try to produce more wins when they travel to the University of Memphis (10-6) for a three game weekend series starting Friday in Memphis, Tenn.

The Flashes are coming off their first series win of the season and believe they are finally starting to see the results from the hard work put in during practice.

“If we play clean baseball, it’s going to be tough for teams to beat us,” junior shortstop Derek Toadvine said.

During Saturday’s 2-1 win over the Charlotte 49ers, the defense played its first game all season without committing an error. Junior pitcher Taylor Williams threw all nine innings during the game and said the pitching staff is starting to see the defense come around.

“I think that was a big confidence builder,” Williams said of the errorless game. “We have some really good fielders on our team. It doesn’t make me scared to want to pitch to bats. If [batters] hit the ball, I have confidence in the guys behind me.”

Starting pitching was one of the main reasons the Flashes were able to win the series last weekend. The trio of Tyler Skulina, Casey Wilson and Williams combined for two wins by throwing 22 innings, allowing five earned runs, striking out 15 and walking six batters. Head coach Scott Stricklin expressed how all three pitchers have “good stuff” and how they set the tone for the bullpen.

“Tyler, Taylor and Casey are all very talented,” Stricklin said. “That’s encouraging when you can have very good starting pitching. That’s a good place to start.”

Skulina is the Flashes’ number one guy in the rotation but said it has been nice to have Williams and Wilson complementing him in the rotation.

“Having those guys behind me builds a lot of confidence,” Skulina said. “I know they’re going to do well and it makes me want to do well. It’s been a friendly competition between all of us.”

The Flashes will have a challenge ahead of them in the Memphis Tigers.

Memphis is coming off a 6-0 Tuesday night win over Alabama. Stricklin said the upcoming series should be similar to the one the Flashes just played in Charlotte. The Tigers have solid starting pitching and use their bullpen to close down games. They also play a “small ball” style of offense by stealing bases, bunting to move runners over and scoring one or two runs per inning rather than scoring in bunches.

Kent State will try to counter the Tigers’ pitching staff with an offense that has seen its ups and downs early this season. They will get help from All-American George Roberts, who is expected to return this weekend from a wrist injury suffered Feb. 15. Roberts had surgery about two weeks ago to remove his hamate bone and recovered quicker than normal.

“He’s had an unbelievable recovery,” Stricklin said. “He’s pretty close to 100 percent and I anticipate him playing this weekend in Memphis.”

Roberts’ offense will come at the right time. The Flashes are hitting .254 as a team but have occasionally struggled this season with runners in scoring position. In the preseason, he was named Mid-American Conference Field Player of the Year and will also make an impact on the defensive side.

This series at Memphis will mark the last road games before the Flashes come home for their first home game Wednesday, March 20.

Contact Kevin Battaglia at [email protected].