Baseball team in mid-thaw, ready to play in chilly Ohio weather

Tyler McIntosh

Temperatures in the mid-30s, partly cloudy and a chance of rain. That’s what the Kent State baseball team has to look forward when it takes the field tomorrow in its home-opener against Duquesne.

Welcome to March baseball in Ohio.

Kent State (5-11) has played all 16 of their games on the road this season. Last weekend, they were swept in a three-game series by No. 26 Southern Mississippi.

But slow starts are not uncommon for the Flashes. Last season, Kent State started 8-9 but finished 38-19; in 2005, they won only three of their first eight but ended up winning 33 games.

Winning has become the norm for Kent State baseball. Since 2000, they have won three Mid-American Conference regular-season championships and three MAC-tournament titles.

And this season, there have been flickers of promise for the Flashes. Before the Southern Mississippi series, the Flashes had won three out of four games, including two straight wins against Louisville (12-7).

“There are games that we’ve lost that we know we should be playing better than that,” freshman centerfielder Jared Bartholomew said after the Louisville series.

For better or for worse, Kent State is not just a carbon copy of last year’s regular-season MAC champions.

“Last year, offensively, we had a lot of guys that were very capable of putting up runs, stealing bases or hitting home runs,” coach Scott Stricklin said. “This year’s just a different club. We are more pitching and defense oriented.

That pitching staff has held opponents to a .244 batting average this season. Junior Evan Smith is 1-0 with an ERA of 0.47 – second in the nation. Junior reliever Reid Lamport, who has a 2.08 ERA, has surrendered six hits and struck out 17 in 17.1 innings.

“(Lamport’s) been very consistent and has thrown a lot of strikes,” Stricklin said. “He has kept us in games or kept our leads when we’ve put him in the game.”

Closer Ryan Davis, who is a Stopper of the Year nominee, has a 2-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio to go along with his two saves.

Sophomore Chris Carpenter is coming back from an injury that kept him out all of last year. The former seventh-round pick of the Detroit Tigers has only pitched six innings this season.

“Our pitching is going to keep us in games. Our pitching is going to give us an opportunity to win championships,” Stricklin said. “But you’ve got to score runs to win.”

Kent State’s offense is in the process of replacing 43 home runs, 256 RBI and 297 runs from last season’s team. Thus far, Kent State has scored 2 runs or less in seven games.

Assuming the brunt of the offensive load this year is third baseman Andrew Davis. Through 16 games, Davis is hitting .292 with one homerun and eight RBIs.

“Andrew Davis is our best hitter,” Stricklin said. “He’s on track to become the all-time hits leader at Kent State; he’s just a great player. He’s the guy we kind of look to.

“But we’ve had some other guys step up,” Stricklin said, noting the contributions of Bartholomew and fellow freshman Anthony Gallas.

Bartholomew leads Kent State with 10 RBIs, and his on base percentage (.386) and batting average (.317) trail only Gallas. The centerfielder said he didn’t envision starting his college career this way.

“I just wanted to get a chance to get in and play, Bartholomew said. “and then prove that I could play.”

Contact baseball reporter Tyler McIntosh at [email protected].