Baseball continues winning streak against Eastern Michigan

A.J. Atkinson

Extending a nine-game winning streak that now includes sweeping Eastern Michigan — formerly the West Division’s top team in the Mid-American Conference — the Flashes are playing about as good as possible.

Kent State’s pitching staff, ranked first in the MAC in lowest ERA, silenced the No. 1 hitting team in the MAC, while the Flashes’ offense put together a total of 13 runs on 31 hits to Eastern Michigan’s seven runs on 23 hits.

“We wanted to come out here and get the win and assert ourselves as the dominant team in this conference,” junior third baseman Travis Shaw said.

The sweep was the Flashes second in two weekends.

Friday — Kent State 4, Eastern Michigan 2

Sophomore Andrew Chafin followed his role as ace of the pitching staff, battling a slippery, muddy mound in front of over 10 major league scouts in his start Friday. The southpaw struck out 13, walked none, allowed seven hits and one of the two Eagles’s runs.

Ironically, both Stricklin and Chafin agreed this was an off day for the phenom.

“He wasn’t his sharpest and he had 13 strikeouts and no walks,” Stricklin said. “That’s how good he is and how spoiled we are. We’re spoiled by some of the outings that he’s had. I’ll take (today’s performance) every single time.”

Chafin said he felt he did not have as much control of his pitches as he normally does.

“I didn’t feel like I had my best stuff out there today, but I pushed through it and got the win,” Chafin said. “They’re a good hitting team.”

The Flashes supported Chafin’s performance with four runs. Shaw led the Flashes offensively, hitting three-for-four with a double and two runs batted in.

Chafin struck out the first two batters of the ninth before being replaced by junior relief pitcher Kyle McMillon. McMillon entered and picked up his seventh save of the season by forcing a ground out to first in two pitches to give the Flashes the 4-2 victory.

Saturday — Kent State 1, Eastern Michigan 0

Left-handed starting pitcher Kyle Hallock continued to muffle Eastern Michigan’s offense, throwing seven scoreless innings, giving up just five hits, striking out four and walking one to improve his record to 4-4 on the year.

“He’s the guy all our players look up to,” Stricklin said. “He leads by example. It’s no surprise for me to see him succeed like this.”

The Flashes backed up their senior pitcher in the fifth inning with their one and only run. Freshman second baseman Derek Toadvine began the inning with a leadoff infield single to third. One batter later, junior Jimmy Rider moved Toadvine over to third with a ground out to second. Toadvine then scored on Shaw’s ground ball out to second.

Senior Justin Gill came in and retired the Eagles in 1-2-3 order in both the eighth and ninth inning to record his second save of the season.

Sunday — Kent State 8, Eastern Michigan 5

The Flashes showed they were more than just a good pitching team Sunday. The offense produced eight runs on 13 hits with five batters finishing with more than one hit.

“Our entire lineup had really good at-bats,” Stricklin said. “Everybody contributed. It was a good team win.”

Two of the five multi-hit batters, Shaw and junior David Lyon, had a solo home run as one of their hits.

“Our offense responded today,” Shaw said. “We didn’t do too well (Saturday). We only scored one run. But I thought today, throughout the lineup, we did a great job offensively.”

Shaw’s offense continues to improve each week. After the first 22 games, the left-handed hitter was hitting only .230 on the year. That average has improved to .286 after hitting .438 with 14 hits, five doubles, two home runs and six RBIs in his last eight games. This weekend alone, the third baseman hit .385 with five hits, a double, a home run and four runs batted in.

The Flashes ran into problems in the ninth. Up 8-2, sophomore Casey Wilson looked to close out the game to give the Flashes’ their second sweep in two weekends. Wilson retired the first two batters, but fell into trouble after a throwing error by Shaw.

Eastern Michigan plated three runs, forcing Kent State pitching coach Mike Birkbeck to turn to his closer McMillen. Mimicking Friday’s appearance, the right-handed reliever earned the save, his eighth on the year, in two pitches. The save was McMillen’s 12th, which puts him third on Kent State’s Most Career Saves list.

Next Up:

Youngstown State (8-20) is Kent State’s next midweek opponent. The Flashes host the Penguins at Schoonover Field for a 3 p.m. start on Tuesday before traveling to Youngstown State for a Wednesday afternoon game at 3.

Contact A.J. Atkinson at [email protected].