Baseball prepares for four-game weekend amid last season’s hype


Kent pitcher Michael Clark throws against Niagara during the home game at Mural Field on April 24, 2012. The Flashes won against the Purple Eagles, 8-4. Photo by Brian Smith.

Kevin Battaglia

Kent pitcher Michael Clark throws against Niagara during the home game at Mural Field on April 24, 2012. The Flashes won against the Purple Eagles, 8-4. Photo by Brian Smith.

The offseason accolades just keep coming for the Kent State baseball team.

After becoming the first Mid-American Conference program to reach the College World Series in 36 years, the Mid-American Conference announced Tuesday that the Flashes have been projected to repeat as conference champions.

Last season the Flashes finished with a record of 47-20 (24-3 MAC) earning their fourth straight conference tournament championship and 10 overall. The team earned 72 votes. Central Michigan followed with 65 total votes.

“I definitely feel we’re starting to get more respect since last year’s season,” senior infielder George Roberts said. “That just means we have to step up even more.”

In addition to the Flashes being projected conference champions, USA Baseball announced Thursday it has named Roberts to its pre-season Golden Spikes Award Watch List. The list is comprised of the top 50 players in the country. It will gradually change throughout the weeks based on players’ performance with the winner being named live on the MLB Network July 18.

Last season, Roberts earned the MAC Player of the Year award. In the offseason the writers of Collegiate Baseball Newspaper named him Louisville Slugger Pre-Season All-American First-Team. He led the Flashes in batting average (.364), slugging percentage (.549), runs batted in (66) and sacrifice fly balls (9). He also finished with 96 hits, eight homeruns, and 145 total bases. On the defensive side he finished with a fielding percentage of .988 and recorded a team leading 542 putouts.

The Flashes will open their 98th season Friday when they travel to Wilmington, N.C., for a weekend series against University of North Carolina at Wilmington and Virginia Tech.

Game one will start at noon Friday as the Flashes play Virginia Tech, who finished last season at 34-21 (11-19 Atlantic Coast Conference). Kent State will hand the ball to junior pitcher Tyler Skulina (11-3, 3.77) to start the season on the right track.

The writers of Collegiate Baseball Newspaper in the offseason named Skulina to the Louisville Slugger Pre-Season All-American Second-Team. He was also named to Pre-Season All-MAC First-Team, and finished last season with an 11-3 record and a 3.77 ERA, striking out 106 batters and only walking 45 in 107 1/3 innings.

The Hokies will counter with pitcher Joe Mantiply. Mantiply, a senior, finished last season throwing a 5-6 record with a 3.53 ERA. In 81 2/3 innings he struck out 52 batters compared to only walking 19. The Philadelphia Phillies made him their 28 round selection in the MLB draft before he decided to stay for his senior season.

Game two will be played later that day at 4:00 p.m. against UNC Wilmington 39-23 (24-6 Colonial Conference).

Pitcher Taylor Williams, a transfer from Mount Hood Community College, will make his Kent State debut. While at Mount Hood, Williams earned All-Pacific Association of Community Colleges Baseball Division Third-Team.

Williams will be facing off against left-handed pitcher Mat Batts. Batts finished last season with a record of 6-5 in 16 games. He threw for a 3.04 ERA while striking out 90 batters and walking 20 in 100 2/3 innings pitched.

The Flashes will then have one more game with Virginia Tech at noon Saturday and finish up the weekend with UNC Wilmington at 10:00 a.m. Sunday.

In order for the Flashes to continue off last season’s success, Skulina said the team will have to do the little things this weekend that made them so successful. One thing Skulina added includes cutting down on errors to prevent base runners. But with the lack of practice time outside, head coach Scott Stricklin said that is his number one concern entering the season.

“The biggest key for us is being comfortable outside because we haven’t been outside yet,” Stricklin said.

The games can be heard this weekend on iHeart Radio 640 WHLO and live stats can be found on the Kent State Athletics website Kent State Baseball.

Contact Kevin Battaglia at [email protected].