Softball returns to diamond at Louisville

Sophomore pitcher Emma Johnson throws a pitch during the first game of a doubleheader against Penn State on April 25, 2012. Kent State beat Penn State 11-3. Photo by Anthony Vence.

Christian Petrila

Kent State’s softball team will look to get above the .500 mark this weekend as they travel to Louisville, Ky., for a three-day, four-game set against three teams.

Coming off a two-week layoff between games, the Flashes (2-2) will head to the Bluegrass State to improve on plenty of positives they took from their games in Auburn two weeks ago.

One of the biggest encouraging points was sophomore pitcher Emma Johnson’s ability to get a strikeout almost at will, as she struck out 19 batters in just 14 innings. She credits plenty of her success to the pitches she added during the offseason.

“It definitely helped when I needed another pitch to throw,” Johnson said. “I mixed it up with a changeup a little bit, a screwball and added a drop ball in there.”

Something that head coach Karen Linder hopes to see is a little more consistency from her ace because, despite her 19 strikeouts, she also walked 10 batters.

“That’s a goal of ours is that she needs to get a little more command of her pitches and try to reduce the number of walks that she has and it will help our entire team from a defensive standpoint,” Linder said. “Fewer runners on base obviously makes it easier to get out of innings.”

Another thing the Flashes will look to build on is sophomore outfielder Kim Kirkpatrick’s uncanny ability to get on base one way or another. Two weeks ago, Kirkpatrick’s on-base percentage was .769 as she drew five walks, was hit by two pitches and got three hits on top of that.

“As a leadoff hitter, I want to obviously get on base as much as possible, but that just kind of happened,” Kirkpatrick said.

Kent State’s first opponent in the Louisville Invitational will be Buffalo, who went 1-4 at the UCF Holiday Inn Select Tournament. Buffalo committed seven errors in those five games — something KSU saw plenty of in its first games.

In Kent State’s two wins on the season, opponents committed six errors, which led to eight unearned runs. However, Linder wants to see the team capitalize at the plate rather than on an opponent’s miscue.

“You’ve got to be able to produce and manufacture,” Linder said. “I was happy two weeks ago that we were able to take advantage of the other teams’ mistakes, but we have to be able to produce those runs on our own as well.”

Kirkpatrick also said that driving in runs has been a focus in practice.

“We’ve really been working on just staying relaxed, in the zone and focused and just not trying to press anything and not trying to rush anything,” Kirkpatrick said.

Kent State’s other opponents are Louisville — whom they will face twice — and Eastern Illinois. The Louisville Cardinals are bound to give the Flashes a fight, as they have flown out of the gates to an 8-2 record, while the Panthers have gotten off to a 1-3 start.

Linder said she thought the schedule would help the Flashes, now that their four games are spread over three days, rather than back-to-back doubleheaders.

“I think that will allow our pitching staff to be more effective,” Linder said.

The team takes to the diamond for its first game at noon Saturday against the Buffalo Bulls.

Contact Christian Petrila at [email protected].