Baseball team faces tough weekend at Caravelle Resort Classic

Sophomore catcher David Lyon shows the umpire the ball after tagging a runner out to end the eighth inning during the Flashes’ 5-4 win against Ohio University Friday. Photo by Tessa Bargainnier.

A.J. Atkinson

The Kent State baseball team has used a week of practice scenario hitting and fielding in hopes of fixing its uncharacteristic struggles against Louisville, as the team face Coastal Carolina, UAB and Notre Dame this weekend in the Caravelle Resort Classic.

The Flashes, who generally finish at the top of the Mid-American Conference in fielding percentage, committed a total of six errors in three games against the Cardinals.

The worst was Saturday, when only one of the five runs senior pitcher Kyle Hallock surrendered was earned.

“We worked a lot on defense,” Hallock said of this week’s practice. “Fielding ground balls, catching popups, pitchers working on throwing strikes when they’re playing catch. You have to execute in practice before you can execute in the game.”

The team hopes its defensive struggles were a fluke because Coastal Carolina will provide quite the test.

The Chanticleers like to place constant pressure on the defense.

“They put the ball in play, and they put pressure on the defense with bunts and steals,” Kent State coach Scott Stricklin said. “They have a guy (Scott Woodward) who already has 11 stolen bases.”

The team prepared the defense for Coastal Carolina this week by placing more bunts and stealing more in practice. Stricklin hopes this also benefits the Flashes’ offense that struggled along with the defense last weekend.

“We’ve got to do a better job of executing,” Stricklin said. “We had some chances of doing it at Louisville and we didn’t execute. If we call on to bunt, we have to bunt. If we call on to hit and run, we need to put the ball in play. We didn’t do a great job at that this weekend, and Louisville did. Louisville cued the little things and we didn’t.”

Professional scouts are expected to attend Friday’s game to see the pitching showdown between the Chanticleers’ Josh Conway and the Flashes’ sophomore Andrew Chafin.

“The guy we’re seeing Friday night from Coastal Carolina is a projected first-round pick,” Stricklin said. “Great arm. Ninety-six to 97 mph. There will be a lot of pro scouts there watching him as well as our guy, Andrew Chafin. It’ll be a faceoff Friday night.”

Chafin is currently 1-0 on the year and has not given up a run in 12.2 innings. He has struck out 13, walked three and has only given up four hits. Opponents only hit .105 off him.

Conway is 3-0 with a 1.06 earned run average in 17 innings pitched. His strikeout to walks ratio is 25-6, and holds opponent batters to a .138 average.

On Saturday, the team faces one of the best-coached teams in the nation, UAB. Head coach Brian Shoop leads the team with volunteer coach Ron Polk.

“UAB is a very well-coached team,” Stricklin said. “Shoop is a legendary coach, and his volunteer coach is Ron Pope, who is the all-time winningest coach at Mississippi State.”

The Flashes will have to be aware of UAB’s outfielder Jamal Austin. The junior currently leads the team with a .488 batting average, 10 runs scored and 21 hits.

Kent State wraps up its road trip Sunday against the weak-hitting Notre Dame.

The Fighting Irish post a mere .242 team batting average; however, Notre Dame’s pitchers hold their opponents’ batting average to only .263.

“They’ve pitched pretty well and have pretty good defense,” Stricklin said. “They’re going to pitch well and we just have to do a good job continuing to pitch the way we’ve pitched and play good defense.”

Chafin gets the start against Coastal Carolina at 4 p.m. Friday, followed Saturday by Hallock at 6 p.m. against UAB. Junior David Starn closes out the weekend action against Notre Dame at 11 a.m. Sunday.

Senior right fielder Ben Klafczynski is confident the team is ready to pick up a couple wins this weekend.

“Just a couple timely hits here and there, play solid defense, and we should be able to win all three this weekend,” Klafczynski said.

Contact Joe Smith at [email protected].