Softball looks to hold first place in MAC

Brad Tansey

Big bats power KSU through conference

After going 4-0 last weekend against Miami and Ball State, the Kent State softball team squares off in a doubleheader at Ohio today and faces Akron Saturday and Sunday.

The Flashes (21-16, 8-2) gained sole possession of first place in the MAC East standings with last Sunday’s win against Ball State.

Kent State coach Karen Linder said the team is focused on “just taking one game at a time.”

“It’s almost like every time you play, you’re fighting for a conference championship,” Linder said. “It doesn’t matter who you’ve already beaten, you’re still fighting one game at a time.”

As a team, the Flashes have hit 39 home runs on the season — tied for fourth most in school history. Kent State has eight players with at least two homeruns, including a team-high eight home runs by freshman outfielder Lauren Grimes.

“Our biggest strength that’s allowing us to win games is that we have power up and down our lineup,” Linder said. “At any given time, anybody in that lineup can hit the ball over the fence. It’s not that we’re out there trying to hit home runs, it’s just that they have that potential.”

The Kent State pitching staff is anchored by senior Kylie Reynolds. The four-year starter holds a 16-12 record with 253 strikeouts in 179 innings pitched. She was named MAC Pitcher of the Week for the 17th time in her career and the fifth time this season.

Linder said Reynolds has been a positive influence on the team.

“She gives the whole team confidence in knowing that every time we step on the field, we have the chance to win if we are able to play good defense,” Linder said. “Bases could be loaded with no outs and we still have the confidence to know that we can get out of that jam without anybody scoring with Kylie on the mound.”

Since March 5, the Flashes are 20-7. Reynolds is 15-4 during the 27-game span. She is currently second in the nation with 1,132 career strikeouts.

Ohio (11-26, 6-4) is currently tied for second in the MAC East with Bowling Green. The Bobcat’s junior left-handed pitcher Melissa Bonner is 5-8 with a 3.54 earned run average in a team high 85 innings pitched.

“In preparing for them (Ohio), you have to prepare to be able to hit against a lefty,” Linder said. “Their pitching staff likes to keep the ball down. From an offensive standpoint, that’s something that we need to be prepared for.”

Since 2006, the Flashes have won 10 straight games against Akron. Linder said the team should be prepared for all four of the Zips pitchers this weekend.

“They all have different looks,” she said. “They have two freshman pitchers who we haven’t really seen much of and one has really good speed.”

After last weekend’s success, Linder added that now is not the time for the Flashes to get complacent.

“There is still a lot of softball to be played,” Linder said. “Just because we had a good weekend doesn’t mean our challenges are over. They are just getting more difficult.”

Contact sports correspondent Brad Tansey at [email protected].