Baseball defeats Toledo in conference series

A.J. Atkinson

Led by a strong pitching staff, the Kent State baseball team won its first home stand, winning two of the three games this weekend against conference opponent Toledo.

The Flashes opened the weekend winning a 1-0 pitching dual between sophomore Andrew Chafin and Toledo’s Michael Hamann.

Chafin threw 88 strikes out of 113 total pitches, struck out a career high 15 batters, gave up four hits and walked none in Kent State’s first shutout in two years.

“He was as good as you can get,” said Scott Stricklin, Kent State coach, of his ace. “He really commanded the strike zone. We knew they were going to swing the bats. Once you get to two strikes, that slider is about unhittable.”

With the win, Chafin, the March 12 Mid-American Conference Player of the Week, improved to 3-1 on the year with a 0.53 earned run average.

Chafin boasts a 42:8 strikeouts to walks ratio and a mere .155 opponents’ batting average.

The Flashes broke the tie in the bottom of the seventh inning.

Junior third baseman Travis Shaw began the inning with a leadoff walk. Junior catcher David Lyon then singled through the left side of the infield. After a wild pitch, both Shaw and Lyon advanced into scoring position.

Freshman first baseman Cody Koch hit a sacrifice fly to right field that allowed Shaw to tag up and score what became the game winning run.

The Flashes dropped Saturday’s game, 5-2. The Rockets posted three runs in the first and held the Flashes to their two runs in the bottom of the first.

“We got behind early,” Stricklin said bluntly after the loss. “We didn’t have a lot of life.”

After the loss, the Flashes rebounded with solid pitching, fielding and hitting, all working together Sunday, to beat Toledo, 8-2, to claim their first conference series.

Unlike the first two games of the series, the offense gave more breathing room for the pitchers.

Senior right fielder Ben Klafczynski kept his hitting alive, going 2-for-5 with two runs batted in and one run scored.

“He has established himself as one of the best hitters in the country,” Stricklin said of Klafczynski, who is currently batting .430 with four doubles, six homeruns, 25 runs and 22 runs batted in.

The rest of the lineup also started to heat up.

This weekend, Lyon batted .778 with two doubles, one homerun, six runs batted in and a run scored.

“Pitchers are so worried about Klafczynski and Shaw that they give (Lyon) good pitches to hit, and he’s taking full advantage of it,” Stricklin said.

Starting pitcher David Starn earned his third win of the season, going 6 1/3 innings, allowing one run on six hits, seven strikeouts, and two walks on a 34-degree March day.

“Starn did an excellent job overcoming the elements,” Stricklin said of his junior pitcher’s performance. “It’s hard pitching when your hands are numb and you can’t feel the baseball.”

Starn is now 3-1, has a 1.56 earned run average, a 37:9 strikeouts to walk ratio, and opponent’s only hit .200 against him.

“Your goal is to win the series,” Kent State coach Scott Stricklin said. “You want to win the series, but for us to come back and erase (Saturday) says a lot about this team.”

Twenty-two games into the 33 game regular season, Stricklin said he is pleased with everything but his defense.

Even though the Flashes’ lead the MAC with a .975 fielding percentage, Stricklin said he wants to see stronger defense develop.

“With the pitching we have (leads the MAC with a 2.20 earned run average) we’ll win a lot more games if we play defense the way we’re capable of,” Stricklin said.

The Flashes hope to carry Sunday’s strong performance into their 3 p.m. Wednesday game at Schoonover Stadium against Penn State.

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