Flashes lead in final stretch

Matt Gottfried

Flashes’ balanced attack, offensively and defensively, makes team best

The Spring 2006 senior Kent Flashes baseball players (left-right): Chad Wagler, Jon Miller, Todd Balduf, Joe Tucker, Phil Bojc, Drew Saylor and Kurt Eichorn. Their next game is today at Bowling Green at 3 p.m. GAVIN JACKSON | DAILY KENT STATER

Credit: Carl Schierhorn

After winning each of its first six Mid-American Conference series this season, the Kent State baseball team has gained a comfortable four-game lead in the MAC East Division.

Yet three conference series remain on the schedule for the Flashes, and with the MAC Championships approaching in less than a month, senior co-captain Drew Saylor said they have no intentions of coasting the rest of the way.

“We want to win 40 games this season and take care of business in the MAC,” Saylor said. “It would be nice to be able to host the tournament here at our own field.”

Kent State’s overall record is 29-15 and 13-5 in the MAC. Sitting four games behind the Flashes is Bowling Green, which will host Kent State this weekend in a three-game conference series.

The Falcons enter with a team batting average of .281 and the No. 4 ranked pitching staff in the MAC. They have a team ERA of 4.43 and two of the conference’s top two pitchers in Alan Brech and Brian Hangbers. Brech is 3-0 this season in 10 starts with an ERA of 2.37, while Hangbers is 3-2 with a 2.82 ERA.

But the Flashes also enter with depth in their No. 2 ranked pitching staff. Aside from a solid starting rotation anchored by senior Chad Wagler (6-3, 3.39 ERA) and junior J.J. Pacella (4-0, 3.75 ERA), numerous players have also risen to the occasion throughout the season from the bullpen.

“We have some guys that didn’t have that prominent of roles last year and really stepped up,” senior Phil Bojc said. “We had a walk-on in Dominque (Rodgers), who’s pitched pretty well after throwing for the club team last year, and Reid Lamport has also got us out of a lot of jams.”

Saylor noted Pacella as one of the biggest surprises on the staff this year when heading into conference play on the weekends.

“Pacella has also moved into the role as a weekend starter for us,” Saylor said. “Last year, he was more of a spot starter and a reliever. He’s just done a great job this season for us.”

Many of the team’s seniors said the toughest teams in the conference are Central Michigan, which the Flashes faced earlier this season, and Eastern Michigan, which the Flashes have yet to play. The Chippewas lead the MAC with a team batting average of .321, while also accumulating a team ERA of 4.47.

In Kent State’s three-game series against Central Michigan, it dropped the first game, 7-5, before winning the last two, 14-5 and 13-4. The Chippewas lead the MAC West Division with a 13-5 MAC record, one game ahead of the Eagles and their 12-6 record.

Following this weekend’s series with Bowling Green, the Flashes will host cross-town rival Akron for a three-game stint. The Zips have struggled throughout the season, dropping 29 games to just 12 wins.

After Akron is the Buffalo Bulls, who’ve had a similar season. The Bulls are 13-30 this season with a 4-14 record in the MAC. That series will serve as the Flashes’ final tune up before the MAC tournament begins on May 24.

Barring a large collapse in the next three weeks, Kent State will enter the tournament as the No.1 seed in the East Division. Aside from having the opportunity to take on the last seed in the tournament, the Flashes will also be able to host the tournament should they finish in first. And with their 15-2 home record, hosting the tournament could work to their benefit.

For the Flashes, they couldn’t ask for a better way to break in its inaugural year on the newly-renovated Schoonover stadium then with a MAC title.

Contact baseball reporter Matt Gottfried at [email protected]