Softball regroups for MAC tourney

Chris Gates

Flashes look to win second consecutive conference crown

Given its success over the last three years in the Mid-American Conference Tournament, the Kent State softball team is not fazed by its late-season slump.

Since 2006, Kent State (24-24, 15-6 MAC) is 9-2 in the conference tournament, with championships in 2006 and 2008. A third title in four years would earn the Flashes program dynasty status, but they know it won’t be easy.

In the final weekend of the regular season, Kent State had four straight home games and a chance to clinch the top seed in the tournament. Things didn’t go the way they hoped, though, as the Flashes went 1-3 and dropped to No. 2 in the MAC.

Now, the Flashes will face Akron at 5 p.m. today in Akron, with hopes of winning the tournament title and advancing to the NCAA Tournament.

“It’s frustrating because all season long we’ve worked so hard because we wanted to go in as a (No. 1) seed and come out on top,” junior designated hitter Amy Hair said. “We clinched the (MAC) East and that’s big, but getting overall and the No. 1 seed is bigger.

“It kind of sucks when you work so hard for it.”

Kent State benefited from a tough non-conference schedule once the MAC schedule began. The Flashes traveled to play in tournaments against last year’s national champion Arizona State and last year’s national runner-up Texas A&M to begin the year.

Once the MAC season started, the Flashes were under .500. That quickly changed, as they went 12-1 to open conference play.

Most recently, though, the team has struggled, dropping five of its last six games. Kent State coach Karen Linder said the team has struggled in hitting with runners in scoring position, and the Flashes have been outscored 28-12 over the span as a result.

“Obviously (I’d) like to feel better where (we’re) at offensively, going into the MAC Tournament,” Linder said. “But I’m confident that we’re going to be OK. I’m not overly concerned.”

Part of Linder’s confidence stems from her opinion of the conference. The Flashes finished just three games out of first in the MAC, behind Ball State’s conference record of 18-3. At the same time, the Flashes finished the season just four games above fourth place in their own division.

Linder said conference depth gives anyone a chance.

“I don’t know that necessarily the one seed would make that big of a difference as far as the MAC Tournament goes,” she said. “Right now any team can beat any other team. This is probably one of the most balanced MAC Tournaments that I have experienced in 13 years in terms of seeding meaning nothing.”

The team shares its coach’s thoughts. The players believe that, regardless of the way the season went, they are the defending champions and will be viewed as the team to beat.

“Everybody will be coming at us because I still feel we’re the best team,” Hair said. “I think that that pressure and wanting to beat us so bad will make us want to win more.”

Contact principal sports reporter Chris Gates at [email protected].