Flashes look to ride confidence into MAC tourney

Sean Ammerman

Players from Kent State Flashes react to a play Wednesday when Kent State played against Penn State with a loss of 4-1. Kent State will face Miami today at 1p.m. STEPHANIE SMITH | DAILY KENT STATER

Credit: Carl Schierhorn

With a sweep over Buffalo last weekend, the Kent State softball team clinched a spot in the Mid-American Conference Tournament this year.

But with two series against MAC schools remaining, Kent State coach Karen Linder said she is focused on getting through the season first.

“Our main focus is being prepared for this weekend,” Linder said. “Playing at our level will help prepare us for the tournament.”

Kent State (24-22, 12-5 MAC) will host Miami (21-30, 7-11 MAC) in a doubleheader today and then finish off the season hosting Ball State (12-27, 5-13 MAC) tomorrow and Sunday. Wins could pad the Flashes current MAC position, currently the No. 3 seed in the eight-team, double-elimination tournament.

However, Linder said a higher seed will not necessarily mean an easier road to the finals.

“Going into the tournament, to me it doesn’t matter whether you’re a one seed or a sixth seed, everybody has an opportunity to beat everybody else,” Linder said. “I think this whole tournament is totally up for grabs.”

MAC West Division leader Western Michigan (28-12, 15-3 MAC) will host MAC East leader Bowling Green (32-20, 13-5 MAC) today in a doubleheader that could determine which team gets the top seed.

Earlier in the season, Kent State lost two games at home to Bowling Green, but defeated Western Michigan twice in the Broncos’ home ballpark.

“I think since we lost two games to (Western Michigan), Bowling Green would be the team to beat (in the tournament), as will Western Michigan,” sophomore first baseman Jamie Fitzpatrick said. “But each and every player knows we can beat both of them.”

Fitzpatrick, who leads the team in home runs and RBIs, said this season’s success has come from depth in the lineup.

“Not just one or two people contribute, everyone contributes,” she said. “So when some people are off, we have other people to pick them up.”

Last season, the Flashes entered the MAC tournament as the No. 8 seed and were eliminated after losing their first two games. Linder said this year’s team has all the ingredients needed to win its first MAC title since 1990.

“Last year’s team was very young and inexperienced,” Linder said. “This year’s team has built on that experience from last year, built confidence and is playing at a higher level.”

Senior catcher Ashley Fairhurst said the team has had a different mentality this year.

“Everyone is really pumped for the tournament and we feel really good going into it.” Fairhurst said. “I think we will have success if we keep hitting like we are.”

This confidence is what Linder said has led the team to break more MAC records than any team since she’s been coach.

Against Buffalo last week, Kent State broke the MAC record for the most home runs in a season with 41 and strikeouts in a season with 414. Meanwhile, junior Brittney Robinson is still adding to her record for most strikeouts in a season by a single pitcher, now at 342.

To come out on top of the tournament at Currie Stadium in Midland, Mich., May 10-13, Linder said her team will need to maintain its mental toughness and stay offensively consistent.

“When you’re in the tournament, you have take it one game at a time,” Linder said. “It’s a matter of going out, taking control of a game and then finishing the job, and then being able to come back and do it again.”

Contact softball reporter Sean Ammerman at [email protected].