Offense leading softball team to MAC revival

Chris Gates

The differences between non-conference and conference play for the Kent State softball team have been drastic.

Outside of Mid-American Conference play the Flashes (17-17) have struggled, owning a 9-16 record. However, within the conference they have been nearly unbeatable, going 8-1.

A large part of the resurgence has been the offense. Last week, sophomore catcher Ashlee Hein earned MAC East Player of the Week after batting 6-for-13 with three home runs and eight RBIs the previous weekend.

Sophomore infielder Jess Carmichael got the award this week, earning the honor for batting .455 with two home runs, a double and five RBIs last weekend.

In that two-week span, Kent State has gone 7-3.

“(Jess) came through with big home runs in those games that really had a huge difference in our offensive production,” Kent State coach Karen Linder said. “Definitely, I thought she was deserving of the award.

“I think that Ashlee in the 3-hole and Jess in the 4-hole, it gives us a lot of power in the middle of the lineup. Within the last couple of weeks, both of those kids have really come through with home runs.”

Both of Carmichael’s homers blew open close games. In game one of a doubleheader against Ohio last Friday, Carmichael sent a pitch over the left-field wall, driving in two and extending the lead to 5-1. Kent State went on to win, 8-2.

Then on Sunday against Akron, Carmichael hit her fourth home run of the season with her team leading 1-0 in the bottom of the third inning. The shot drove in three runs and gave Kent State a four-run cushion to work with. The Flashes eventually won 5-1, their fourth MAC victory in a row.

“When I go up to the plate I think, ‘Just take it one pitch at a time,'” Carmichael said. “That’s been helping me. I’m seeing the ball really well right now.

“Confidence is really high right now in the lineup. With our preseason and our schedule – how tough it was – I think a lot of us, our confidence was kind of low. Now that we’ve started the MAC season, our confidence has started to go back up and I think we’re just kind of riding that confidence level.”

Going up against Eastern Michigan (15-23, 3-7 MAC) and Central Michigan (9-22, 1-8 MAC) this weekend could add some assurance for Carmichael at the plate. The last time the Flashes made the same road trip, she batted 4-for-12 with a home run and three RBIs. Kent State went 4-0 on that trip.

Linder said Eastern and Central Michigan can’t be overlooked because of their records. The Eagles have lost five of their seven conference games by three runs or fewer, and the Chippewas are very similar, losing seven of eight MAC games by the same margin.

“We can’t take either one of these teams lightly,” Linder said. “Their records are not indicative of what they’re capable of doing.

“We know we’re going to be in for a battle because every team that plays us brings their A-game because of the success we’ve had over the last three years. We’ve got a target on our back and we’ve got to bring our A-game because everybody else (is).”

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