Flashes survive Florida and continue in College World Series

Matt Lofgren

No hangover after big win

Beating the nation’s number one team still hasn’t sunk in to players and coaches yet.

The shock of escaping a bases-loaded situation in the top of the ninth inning with one out and a 5-4 lead against Florida is something that coach Scott Stricklin still has a hard time coming to grips with.

“When you see it on SportsCenter, I mean, that kind of wakes you up, and just the realization, I mean, they are the number one team in the country, and they are, I think, the most talented team in baseball,” Stricklin said. “They’ve done everything right for the past three years, and I think that shows you how difficult it is to win a national championship.”

Center fielder Evan Campbell said he was just pleased that the team was still in it and practicing for another game.

“I wouldn’t say it’s sunk in for me,” Campbell said. “Last night, going to sleep and just realizing that we’re still in it — it’s hard to believe, and then realizing that we beat the number one team in the country is right up there with it.”

Tweets and texts poured in from across the Kent State community of just how anxious the end of the game made people.

“We were just trying to make it entertaining for people” Stricklin joked. “It’s amazing how many text messages and emails I got from people talking about heart attacks and things like that. It’s really interesting to hear from other people, because we’re sitting there in the dugout and felt the same way.”

In every sense of the word, Stricklin is proud of his team. Going through Tuesday’s practice, it was easy to see the team was not only in high spirits, but also buying into Stricklin’s attitude of being relaxed.

An easy concept for some, but when your every move is being nationally televised, the pressure is on.

“There’s no question. I thought we were really loose,” Stricklin said. “When you watched us play yesterday — number one, we were the aggressors, and number two, I thought we were really loose and relaxed.”

Relaxation is key as team preps for South Carolina.

Coming off arguably the biggest win in Kent State athletics history, the Flashes baseball team was once again at East Bellvue High School with the same relaxed tone that has gotten the team this far in the postseason.

Warming up on the field with temperatures above 90 degrees, the players and coaches were in shorts and T-shirts for some batting practice and fielding drills.

Watch Parties

For the first 25 minutes or so of practice, Stricklin threw batting practice to his 7-year-old son, who is also a switch hitter, while the team warmed up for the hourlong practice.

Campbell, whose diving catch Monday against Florida was seen nationwide on SportsCenter’s “Top 10 Plays” at number two overall, said the team is preparing for Wednesday’s game against the Gamecocks just like it did for Florida.

“The game plan is pretty much the same thing, just execute our plan,” Campbell said. “Just come out and win the first 30 minutes, come out really hot and get a lead going, and our pitchers will handle business like usual.”

Stricklin said he knows the dangerous two-time defending national champions have the experience and lockdown pitching staff necessary to make for a tough outing.

“You’ve got to try to take the game out of their bullpen’s hands,” Stricklin said. “If Matty Price gets the ball late in the game with the lead, it’s pretty tough to beat South Carolina. He’s been there for them for those last two national championship games, and that’s the game plan — try and shorten the game, get a six- or seven-inning game and hand the ball over to their bullpen. So you’ve got to score early and make them play from behind.”

The Flashes will send sophomore Tyler Skulina to the mound. Skulina has posted a 3.63 ERA this season with an 11-2 record.

A transfer from Virginia, Skulina had his best outing of the season against Oregon on June 11 to propel the Flashes to the College World Series. Pouring his heart into the game, Skulina pitched 5.2 innings, struck out four Ducks and didn’t allow a run.

“(I’m) not going to try and do too much — try to stay within myself and let my defense work behind me,” Skulina said. “Just try and get outs. That’s my job tomorrow.”

First pitch against the Gamecocks will be at 8 p.m. EDT.

Contact Matt Lofgren at [email protected].