Kent State baseball splits weekend series in New Mexico

Freshman+outfielder+T.J.+Sutton+makes+contact+with+the+ball+during+Wednesdays+game+against+Pittsburgh+at+Schoonover+Stadium.+Kent+State+defeated+Pittsburgh+by+a+score+of+9-5+to+earn+their+sixth+win+in+a+row.+Photo+by+Anthony+Vence.

Freshman outfielder T.J. Sutton makes contact with the ball during Wednesday’s game against Pittsburgh at Schoonover Stadium. Kent State defeated Pittsburgh by a score of 9-5 to earn their sixth win in a row. Photo by Anthony Vence.

Tim Dorst

The Kent State baseball team traveled nearly 2,000 miles to Las Cruces, NM for a four-game weekend series against the New Mexico State Aggies.

It was a weekend of ups and downs for the Flashes, as they took the first two games of the series and dropped the last two.

The Flashes’ hitting showed improvement over the weekend, pounding out 10 hits in three of the four games. Unfortunately for them, it only resulted in two series wins.

Coach Scott Stricklin said while the Flashes have made some strides, they have a lot of things to work on.

“We learned [Sunday] that we need to be a tougher team,” Stricklin said. “If we’re going to be as good as we need to be, we need to get toughened up.”

Cold and windy weather made for rough baseball conditions on Friday and Saturday, but Mother Nature didn’t seem to have much effect on the Flashes’ performance those days.

Friday — Kent State 7, New Mexico State 4

Junior center fielder Evan Campbell had a stellar day at the plate, hitting 5-for-6 as the Flashes earned a series-opening win Friday night.

Kent State missed some opportunities to score in the early innings but found a groove later on, tallying six runs in the final four innings.

Stricklin said he was proud of the way his team competed under less-than-favorable conditions.

“This is a very tough place to play,” Stricklin said. “New Mexico State wins most of its home games, and it was a tough atmosphere. Plus we came from across the country and got in late [Thursday night]. So I’m proud of the way our guys came out and hung in there.”

The Aggies threatened to blow the game wide open, loading the bases in the eighth and ninth innings. However, clutch pitching by freshman right-handed pitcher Josh Pierce and junior right-handed pitcher Casey Wilson held New Mexico State to just one run in each of those innings.

“That’s what we’re looking for early in the season,” Stricklin said. “Our bullpen’s not really established yet, and we’re audition guys for roles. Josh and Casey really made big strides today being in there when the game’s counting on them.”

With the Flashes leading 5-4 in the top of the ninth, Campbell hit an RBI single to give his team’s lead some security.

“[Campbell] was outstanding today,” Stricklin said. “He saw the ball really well out there, and he got us a nice run in the ninth to give us a little bit more of a cushion.”

Saturday ­— Kent State 10, New Mexico State 9

The Flashes overcame a four-run deficit with a six-run third inning and held on to take a 2-0 lead in the weekend series.

Kent State’s offense was sparked by a bases-loaded double in the third by senior shortstop Jimmy Ryder that drove in two runs. Senior catcher David Lyon followed up with a double of his own to drive in another for the Flashes, who smashed their way to 14 hits for the game.

Stricklin said he is pleased that his team is making strides on the offensive end.

“We’re swinging the bat better, we’re swinging with more confidence and we’re hitting the ball hard,” Stricklin said. “So it’s definitely good to see.”

Four Flashes had multi-hit days, with sophomore designated hitter T.J. Sutton and freshman second baseman Sawyer Polen each tallying three hits. Polen also drove in two runs and scored two more.

The Aggies stormed back in the bottom of the eighth inning, scoring three runs and cutting the Flashes’ lead to one. With the game on the line, Eric Dorsch set the Aggies down in order for his first career save in only his second career appearance.

“Just like Josh [Pierce] and Casey [Wilson] took big steps yesterday, Eric took a huge step forward today,” Stricklin said. “He’s a guy who’s worked extremely hard. We put him in there just to see what would happen, and he came in and threw nothing but strikes.”

Sunday, Game 1 — New Mexico State 12, Kent State 6

The Aggies put on an offensive display Sunday afternoon, and a ninth-inning comeback by the Flashes was not enough to counter it.

New Mexico State broke a 2-2 tie by scoring four runs in the bottom of the fifth inning. Kent State answered with a run in the top of the sixth, but the Aggies tacked on five more runs in the seventh to extend their lead.

The Flashes started to get back in the game in the ninth inning, loading the bases and getting three runners home. However, the deficit was just too great, and the team was unable to make the full comeback.

Sunday, Game 2 ­— New Mexico State 14, Kent State 4

The Flashes fell behind early in the game Sunday night and just couldn’t keep up with the Aggies’ fierce offense.

New Mexico State rattled off 14 runs on 17 hits to even the weekend series up at 2-2. Kent State only trailed by three runs after three innings, but the Aggies scored five runs in the fourth to pull away and solidify their lead.

Senior right-handed pitcher Ryan Mace had a rough day for the Flashes, giving up 10 runs on 11 hits in 3 2/3 innings. The Flashes tallied 10 hits of their own but struggled with runners in scoring position, leaving 10 potential runs on base.

Stricklin said his team got outplayed in every way during both of the games on Sunday.

“We had some adversity today, and we just didn’t step up,” Stricklin said. “When things didn’t go our way, instead of fighting back, we caved in a little bit.”

The Flashes will be on the road again next weekend as they travel to Malibu, CA to take on Pepperdine University in a three-game series.

Contact Tim Dorst at [email protected] and @TimmyD_DKS.