Flashes baseball beats Bulls, improves to 9-0 in MAC play

Junior+Evan+Campbell+swings+at+the+pitch+during+the+game+against+Buffalo%2C+April+7.+Photo+by+Chelsae+Ketchum.

Junior Evan Campbell swings at the pitch during the game against Buffalo, April 7. Photo by Chelsae Ketchum.

Tim Dorst

The Kent State baseball team is off to its best conference start in program history.

The Flashes swept the Buffalo Bulls in a three-game weekend series to improve their record to 9-0 against Mid-American Conference foes.

This marks the third straight weekend sweep for the Flashes, having swept Northern Illinois and Ball State the past two weeks.

Coach Scott Stricklin said it hasn’t been pretty the whole way, but he said the players have found ways to win.

“We’ve wasted a lot of opportunities, but we’ve competed and battled,” Stricklin said. “It’s all about taking one game at a time and not worrying about what other teams do. We can only control what we do.”

In the first two games of the series against Buffalo, the Flashes came from behind to pull out wins.

Friday — Kent State 5, Buffalo 4

Senior left-handed pitcher David Starn made history in his start for the Flashes as they earned a walk-off victory in the ninth inning.

Starn pitched six innings, allowed just one run and struck out 12, breaking the Kent State school record for most career strikeouts.

Starn said he was glad his team got the win and glad he broke the record at home.

“It wasn’t in my mind to get the record,” Starn said. “I’ve just been going out there and trying to do what I do every game to help us win. There’s a lot of good pitchers who have come through here and done a lot of great things.”

The previous strikeout record was held by Dirk Hayhurst, who had 274 career strikeouts between 2000 and 2003. Starn now has 280 strikeouts for his career.

The Flashes faced adversity heading into the ninth inning, trailing 4-2 against the Bulls. However, Buffalo’s bullpen struggled in the bottom of the ninth, walking three straight Kent State batters to load the bases.

Bulls pitcher Michael Burke hit freshman left fielder Alex Miklos with a pitch to force in a run, and sophomore right fielder T.J. Sutton smacked a two-run single to right fielder to earn his team the series-opening victory.

Saturday — Kent State 6, Buffalo 3

Facing a 3-0 deficit, the Flashes fired back with three runs in the seventh inning and three more in the eighth to earn yet another comeback victory.

Kent State struggled at the plate for much of the game, recording just two hits in the first six innings. The seventh inning came around, and the Flashes’ bats came alive.

After the Flashes scored a run in the seventh, junior third baseman Nick Hamilton came in to pinch-hit and slapped a two-run triple to left field, tying the game up at three.

Hamilton said it is important as a player to stay mentally ready while sitting on the bench.

“It’s a lot easier if you’re always prepared to come in,” Hamilton said. “I’m just glad I got a chance to come in and help the team out.”

In the bottom of the eighth inning, junior first baseman George Roberts broke the tie with one swing of the bat. Roberts slammed a three-run home run over the left center field wall, giving his team a lead they would not relinquish.

Stricklin said his team became more aggressive offensively in the seventh inning.

“The only thing I said in the dugout is that we still had a lot of game left and just make sure to keep battling,” Stricklin said. “I figured we were just one at-bat away from taking the momentum from [the Bulls].”

Junior right-handed pitcher Ryan Bores pitched a solid outing, allowing three runs on six hits and struck out eight Buffalo batters in a no-decision. Freshman right-handed pitcher Eric Dorsch earned his first win of the season in relief, and senior right-handed pitcher Ryan Mace recorded his second save.

Sunday — Kent State 6, Buffalo 3

The Flashes displayed more late-inning heroism, and their bullpen shut the Bulls down to complete the weekend sweep.

Hamilton broke a 3-3 tie in the fifth inning with an RBI double to left center field. Sutton extended the Flashes’ lead in the sixth with a solo home run that hit the scoreboard in right field. The homerun was Sutton’s first of his college career.

Sutton said his grandfather was in the stands to watch him, so hitting the home run was extra special for him.

“It’s not something I usually try to do when I go up there,” Sutton said. “But right before I went up, my mom yelled, ‘Do it for grandpa.’ He doesn’t get to go to many games, so I was happy I got to do it for him.”

Sophomore right-handed pitcher Tyler Skulina struggled at times but did enough to earn his fourth win of the season. Skulina went five innings, allowed three runs on six hits and struck out five.

Four Flashes relief pitchers put in four solid innings of work, allowing just one base runner and retired 12 batters in a row.

Stricklin said the bullpen could very well be the new strength of the team.

“Our bullpen was dominant,” Stricklin said. “We have a lot of depth, and I’m happy to see these guys throw the way they’re throwing and just establishing a rhythm out there.”

Junior right-handed pitcher Casey Wilson breezed through the ninth inning to earn his fourth save of the season.

The Flashes will be in action again Tuesday afternoon as they take on Youngstown State in the first of a two-game midweek series.

Contact Tim Dorst at [email protected].