Nothing short of a Championship

Chris Gates

Baseball team starts another season this weekend with great expectations for a MAC title

Junior pitcher Chris Carpenter leads a strong pitching staff into the 2008 baseball season. He finished last year with a 4.50 ERA and has been drafted by the Detriot Tigers and the New York Yankees. ELIZABETH MYERS | DAILY KENT STATER

Credit: DKS Editors

No less than a repeat of 2007 will be accepted.

That is the goal and the common belief among the players of the 2008 Kent State baseball team.

“We should win the MAC easily,” sophomore left fielder Anthony Gallas said, “not lose a weekday game and win a regional.”

The Flashes were the Mid-American Conference Tournament champions in 2007. Last year’s team finished the season with an overall record of 33-26. The Flashes MAC record was 19-8, going 4-0 in the MAC Championships.

It was the fourth time in the last seven years Kent State won the MAC.

From there Kent State went on to the NCAA Regionals where they were unable to register a win going 0-2.

Fifteen starters return from last season, seven positional players and eight pitchers. The eight pitchers will lead what will arguably be the strong suit of the team.

“I think, coming in, our strength is our pitching,” coach Scott Stricklin said. “That’s something that we’ve built our tradition on over the last 15 years.

“(It’s) as good as we’ve ever had here, and we’ve had some very good pitchers,” he said. “I think our pitching staff has the chance to dominate some people if they do what they’re capable of doing.”

Starting pitchers junior Chris Carpenter, 4-1 last year with a 4.50 ERA, and sophomore Kyle Smith, 4-2 with a 3.84 ERA, will lead the starting staff.

Carpenter has been drafted twice, once by the Detroit Tigers and once by the New York Yankees.

As for the bullpen, senior Reid Lamport is the top returnee from the 2007 season. He finished his junior season with a 2.76 ERA and 36 strikeouts in 42.1 innings of work.

On the field, Kent State returns the majority of its defense, including some very lively bats to their lineup.

“I’ve only been here one year, and it’s stronger than last year,” Gallas said. “Each position is really deep. Coach Strick says it’s the deepest team we’ve had here.”

“We’ve got a lot of experience there,” Stricklin said. “It certainly not a weakness of ours. Offensively we can score some runs.”

Gallas will try and continue the production from his freshman season to his sophomore campaign. He finished last year with a .332 batting average, 10 home runs and 46 RBI’s.

His biggest concern: staying consistent.

“I don’t (want to) have a sophomore slump,” Gallas said. “Don’t do anything real spectacular, just be consistent.”

The outfield returns all three starters from 2007. Along with Gallas is fellow sophomore Jared Bartholomew in center field and junior right fielder Jason Patton.

“It’s good for chemistry,” Gallas said. “Since all three of us are coming back it makes it more comfortable out there.”

Bartholomew finished last season with a .193 average and three homers. To his left, Patton nearly finished with a .300 average, batting .292 with four homers and 29 RBI’s.

Junior shortstop Chris Tremblay also finished last season with a batting average above .300, hitting .321 with 23 RBI’s and 14 stolen bases.

The biggest loss from last year for the Flashes is former third baseman and team captain Andrew Davis. He is Kent State’s all-time hit leader, and was the vocal leader of a team that reached the NCAA Regionals for the eighth time in school history.

“Replacing him – those are some big shoes to fill,” Stricklin said. “(We’re) losing him not only as a player but as a leader.”

With Davis gone, Stricklin and the Flashes have found a new group of leaders. In 2008, Kent State features tri-captains Chris Carpenter, Greg Rohan and Reid Lamport.

Rohan, a junior, is an infielder for the Flashes, and Lamport is a senior relief pitcher.

“Those guys have done a good job of leading by example,” Stricklin said. ” We don’t have that ‘vocal’ leader, but I think we have a lot of guys that play very hard and do things the right way.”

Every year, departing seniors leave holes that have to be filled. This year is no different, with players adjusting to new expectations at their positions.

“Expanded roles are going to be expected out of some guys,” Stricklin said. “Jon Pokorny is going to have an expanded role. He was a guy that pitched quite a few innings for us last year, but they were more in non-stress situations. This year, it’s going to be 2-1 when Jon Pokorny is in the game.

“Reid Lamport’s going to have to step in and be our closer,” he added. “He had some experience doing that last year and got a couple saves.”

These roles will be tested in the first weekend of competition for the Flashes when they travel to North Carolina to face UNC Greensboro. The first game is Saturday at 1 p.m.

“It’s the first time we’re going to be outside, and UNC Greensboro has been practicing for the last three weeks outside in the dirt, under the lights and in the weather,” Stricklin said. “It’s the little things (like) pop-ups and pop-up communication – things that we haven’t been able to do yet. Those are the little things that can cause some problems early on.”

Gallas was again to the point, just as he was with his MAC prediction, saying he expects a sweep from his team to start the year.

Kent State will play away games until March 25, when Malone College visits to open the home schedule at Schoonover Stadium.

Contact sports reporter Chris Gates at [email protected].