Freshman trio having success early in KSU baseball careers

Josh Johnston

Kent State baseball coach Scott Stricklin knew his freshman class was going to be good this year. But what he’s seen so far is more than he could have ever expected.

Led by pitcher Andrew Chafin and infielders Jimmy Rider and Travis Shaw, the Flashes’ rookies haven’t wasted much time in adjusting to college ball. On the mound and at the plate, Kent State’s freshmen have been a major factor in the team’s 34-9 record.

“Obviously, (college baseball) is a lot better competition,” Rider said. “High school, like one or two players on a team are good, but in college everyone’s good.”


Jimmy Rider

Rider has started for Kent State from day one – he’s been in the starting lineup in 39 of the Flashes’ 43 games this season.


Just looking at Wednesday’s doubleheader against Duquesne gives an idea of how good Kent State’s freshmen are.

&bull Rider went 4-for-6 with a grand slam

&bull Lyon smacked a bases-loaded triple

&bull Shaw batted 4-for-8 with a home run

&bull Pitchers Starn and Mace combined for seven strikeouts over three innings

&bull Chafin fanned Duquesne’s last three batters for the save in game one.

At 5-foot-8 and 170 pounds, Rider’s appearance might not be impressive, but his team-leading .355 batting average makes up for that.

“Jimmy Rider, more than anybody, is a pure baseball player,” Stricklin said. “He hits everything on the barrel. He knows how to hit the ball to the opposite field. He has what we call a very good approach at the plate.”

Stricklin compared Rider to Padres shortstop David Eckstein, an undersized player who makes contact and gets on base.

“You see (Eckstein) walking down the street, you don’t say ‘that guy’s a major league baseball player,'” Stricklin said. “Jimmy Rider’s very unassuming. He’s not going to stand out in a crowd, but he can just play the game.”


Travis Shaw

Shaw made his name known in the game against Malone on March 31. With the bases loaded and the score tied 2-2, Shaw hit a walk-off single. Five days later, Shaw upped the theatrics, belting a game-winning, ninth inning grand slam against Northern Illinois.

Since then, Shaw has shared playing time at third base with senior Brad Winter. Shaw credited Winter for helping him adjust to college.

“It would have been a little bit harder for me to adjust, say, if I didn’t have an upperclassman there,” said Shaw, who’s batting .295 this season. “As a senior, (Winter) has been here for three or four years. He knows how everything goes, and he helped me immensely.”

Like Rider, Shaw grew up around the game of baseball. Shaw’s father, Jeff Shaw, was a two-time all-star pitcher in the 1990s, playing for the Dodgers and the Reds. Rider’s father coaches high school baseball.

“Travis grew up in a major league stadium,” Stricklin said. “He’s been around major league players all his life. Jimmy Rider, being the son of a high school coach, has been around baseball all his life. That’s what they talk about at the dinner table.

“Sons of baseball players and sons of baseball coaches, they know the game because they talk about it all the time.”


Andrew Chafin

The Flashes have won 16 games by three runs or fewer this season – mostly because when Chafin comes in, opposing teams go silent. Chafin has been the star of Kent State’s bullpen all season, posting a 0.84 ERA in 32 innings.

Chafin’s forte is pitching in high-pressure situations. When the game’s on the line, pitching coach Mike Birkbeck hands the ball over to the lefty.

“I love it,” Chafin said. “The tougher the situation, the more fun it is – especially if you come out on top.”

Stricklin said Chafin’s performance surprised him this season. Chafin has struck out 50 batters and has given up just three earned runs in his 15 appearances.

“To do what he’s done, you can’t wish that on somebody,” Stricklin said. “His numbers are Pitcher of the Year numbers in our conference. He’s got a chance to be a first team All-American. Not a freshman All-American, but an All-American.”

Rider, Shaw and Chafin have turned heads with their performances this season, but Stricklin said the entire freshman class has impressed him.

“We thought (the freshmen) were going to be very good coming into the season,” he said. “I don’t know if we expected this much. You can talk about Chafin, Rider and Shaw, but then you add David Lyon, David Starn (and) Ryan Mace and there’s six guys who have made heavy contributions. We feel really good about the freshman class and what they’ve been able to do.”

Contact sports reporter Josh Johnston at [email protected].