Baseball starts conference season 4-1

Josh Johnston

Flashes stand in second place after split with Ball State

Rain abruptly ended the week for the Kent State baseball team yesterday at Ball State. Although the Flashes were unable to play their final game with the Cardinals, they still went 6-2 over spring break.

Kent State (16-6, 4-1 Mid-American Conference) split its two weekend games with Ball State, winning 10-9 Friday and losing 4-2 Saturday. With a 4-1 conference record, the Flashes find themselves in second place in the MAC East division.

“Being at 4-1 and sitting near the top of the conference after two weeks is certainly better than where we were last year – we started off 1-5 last season,” Kent State manager Scott Stricklin said. “We’re playing very good, just not quite as consistent offensively as I would like, but still playing pretty good baseball.”


March 20: W 13-4 vs. Eastern Michigan

March 21: W 6-1 vs. Eastern Michigan

March 22: W 13-2 vs. Eastern Michigan

March 24: L 2-9 vs. Penn State

March 25 (game one): W 12-3 vs. Niagara

March 25 (game two): W 9-7 vs. Niagara

March 27: W 10-9 at Ball State

March 28: L 2-4 at Ball State

March 29: Canceled

The quick start to the conference season came in part because of the pitching staff, which allowed six earned runs in a three-game sweep last weekend against Eastern Michigan. In the first matchup, junior Brad Stillings retired 12 straight Eagles at one point in a 13-4 win. In seven innings, Stillings struck out 13 while scattering four hits and two earned runs.

The next day, juniors Kyle Smith and Jon Pokorny teamed up to shut down Eastern Michigan’s batters, striking out 14 total and giving up two hits in the Flashes’ 6-1 victory. Five pitchers combined in the final game to limit the Eagles to just two runs.

“I thought (our starters) were outstanding in the Eastern Michigan series,” pitching coach Mike Birkbeck said. “They managed their fastballs and put guys away when they had them in situations to put them away.”

Offensively, the Flashes outscored Eastern Michigan 32-7 on the weekend. This weekend at Ball State, hitting and pitching didn’t sync up as nicely, as Kent State needed an offensive burst in the first game to overcome a shaky performance on the mound.

Senior first baseman Greg Rohan ripped a two-out, three-run homer to left field in the eighth inning to secure the Flashes’ win. Stillings, however, struggled on the pitching rubber, surrendering five runs in four innings of work.

“(Stillings) was just a little bit wild in the strike zone,” Birkbeck said. “The Ball State guys did a very good job with his mistakes.”

In Saturday’s game, Smith’s pitching performance kept the score close, but the Flashes’ bats never heated up. Smith allowed four runs over 6 1/3 innings, which Stricklin said is good enough to win in MAC baseball.

“He pitched well enough to win,” Stricklin said. “He wasn’t outstanding, but he was good. In this conference, if you only give up four runs, you should win. Our offense let us down a little bit.”

In addition to the two weekend series, the Flashes played three midweek non-conference games over spring break. On Tuesday against Penn State, Kent State’s batters never found their swing against senior pitcher Mike Lorentson, who gave up five hits in 7 2/3 innings. The 9-2 loss was the only one in Kent State’s eight game homestand.

The Flashes came back to Schoonover Stadium the next day to win both games in a doubleheader against Niagara, 12-3 and 9-7. Freshman shortstop Jimmy Rider led the team at the plate in the first game with five RBIs in three at-bats. In the second game, Kent State overcame a five-run deficit by scoring five runs in the bottom of the fifth.

The Flashes return to Schoonover Stadium tomorrow at 3 p.m. to face Malone.

Contact sports reporter Josh Johnston at [email protected].