Stillings pitches no-hitter in win over Toledo

Josh Johnston

Brad Stillings couldn’t have been much more perfect Friday afternoon at Toledo.

The junior pitcher tossed the Kent State baseball team’s first no-hitter in more than a decade en route to a 1-0 win over the Rockets.

“It was really exciting to watch,” Kent State manager Scott Stricklin said. “Brad Stillings was really good. He had all his pitches working. He was locating. He was working ahead in the count.”

Stillings, who picked up his second win in as many outings, struck out nine Rockets in the first complete game of his career. He retired streaks of 10 and 12 batters between Toledo’s two baserunners.

After Toledo third baseman Jake Oester reached on a fielding error by freshman Travis Shaw at third base in the second inning, Stillings retired 10 straight before allowing Toledo’s second baserunner of the game.

Stillings hit first baseman Jim Vahalik with a pitch to begin the sixth inning, but then cut down the next 12 Toledo batters, striking out five, to finish off the no-hitter.

Stillings said he didn’t start thinking about a no-hitter possibility until the eighth inning.

I just kind of started thinking it’d be pretty cool if I threw one,” he said. “The last out of the game, it really didn’t register, and then my catcher bull-rushed me with his hands up. Then it kind of hit home.”

Kent State received run support in the sixth inning when sophomore designated hitter Ben Klafczynski doubled down the third-base line to score freshman shortstop Jimmy Rider. Klafczynski finished with two of the Flashes’ three hits on the day.

“That was all the offense we needed,” Stricklin said. “We manufactured that run. We said it before the game, we knew it was going to be a tough game just because of the conditions and how good their pitcher was.”

Toledo starter Justin Collop nearly matched Stillings’ effort, holding the Flashes to three hits and striking out seven in his eight innings of work. Collop didn’t allow a Kent State baserunner past first base until the Flashes scored in the sixth inning.

“Their guy was almost just as good,” Stricklin said. “Collop threw his fastballs for strikes. He kept us off balance. It was a tough day to hit. It was cold – the wind was blowing straight in. It was a big pitchers’ day, and both guys were very good.”

With Toledo’s Vahalik on base to lead off the bottom of the sixth, the Rockets moved him around to third behind a sacrifice bunt and a putout at first base. Stillings worked out of the jam by forcing second baseman Tim Krofcheck to pop out.

Facing Krofcheck again with two outs in the ninth inning, Stillings struck him out looking to seal the no-hitter. The Flashes’ dugout emptied as his teammates mobbed him on the mound.

“It didn’t really register yet because I’m pretty sure strike three wasn’t actually a strike, but the ump gave it to me anyway,” Stillings said. “I kind of expected it to be a 1-2 count after that, but they rang him up and then (catcher Cory Hindel) came out and hugged me. It took a little longer for everyone else to get there, but they started coming in and everybody’s giving me hugs and stuff. It was just a pretty cool feeling.”

Kent State’s last no-hitter came April 23, 1997, when Mike Skeeles blanked Akron in a 1-0 win. Stillings’ no-hitter marks just the 10th no-hitter in the program’s history.

Contact sports reporter Josh Johnston at [email protected].