Senior Chad Wagler had the opportunity to play professional baseball this year after being drafted by San Francisco at the conclusion of last season.
In 19 appearances, he led the team with six wins and accumulated a 2.47 ERA as Kent State finished the season 33-20.
But Wagler wasn’t ready to forgo his college playing career for a paycheck.
Not yet anyways.
After sticking around for his senior year, Wagler has helped guide the Flashes to a 29-15 record and a first place standing in the Mid-American Conference.
In 11 starts this season, he has gone 6-3 with an ERA of 3.39 and leads the team with 47 strikeouts. As a co-captain and well-respected leader of the team, the Flashes couldn’t be happier with his decision to stay.
“Chad coming back for his senior year was real big for us,” senior reliever Phil Bojc said. “He had the chance to play for a professional team, and he chose to come back and play for us. He’s our number one, and without him we would have been struggling a little more toward the beginning of the season.”
When asked if he had any regrets about staying, Wagler showed no hesitation in expressing his feelings on the decision.
“I have no regrets at all,” Wagler said. “This is exactly what I wanted to do. We’ve won a lot of games this year, and I want to be able to give Drew (Saylor) a ring. He hasn’t got one yet since he transferred.”
Saylor, also co-captain, joined last season after spending his previous two years at Cincinnati. In 44 games this season, he is hitting .370 with a team-high 13 home runs and 59 RBIs. He combines with senior Kurt Eichorn to form the MAC’s most potent three-four punch, where the two have combined for 24 home runs and 97 RBIs.
“At the beginning of the season Kurt and I set out a few goals as the middle of the lineup hitters,” Saylor said. “We wanted to hit 30 home runs between the two of us and get 150 RBIs. I think we’re coming close to that.”
With 11 more regular season games remaining on the season, the goal isn’t far from reach. But Saylor is quick to credit his teammates for his big numbers, who have combined to form the MAC’s No. 2 ranked lineup.
“There is really no weak part in the lineup,” Saylor said. “I know having Kurt (Eichorn) behind me and Andrew (Davis) behind him, the pitcher just can’t take an at-bat off, and when he does, that’s when mistakes happen.
“You can take a look at (Todd Balduf), and he has eight home runs this year and he only had two last year. It just goes to show that whenever a pitcher takes an at-bat off, we have the power to make them pay anywhere in the lineup.”
The Kent State lineup has been terrorizing opposing pitching staffs all season, hitting .318 as a team and scoring a league-high 357 runs. Seven batters are hitting over the .300 mark, including junior shortstop Emmanuel Burriss and third baseman Davis who rank No. 2 and 3 in the MAC, respectively.
Burriss has hit .380 this season to lead the team, in addition to tying Saylor for a team-high 54 runs scored. He also leads all runners with 30 stolen bases this season, nearly doubling the next closest base stealer who has 16.
Meanwhile, Davis has continued to solidify the lineup behind Eichorn in hitting .379 this season. He ties Saylor for a team-high 15 doubles and ranks among the league leaders in RBIs.
Despite having such a dominating offense, the Flashes’ pitching staff has shown little problems in keeping pace.
Wagler leads the team with six wins, while sophomore Steve Ross and junior J.J. Pacella have contributed with four wins apiece. That trio of pitchers represent the starting rotation heading into conference play on the weekends, which has allowed freshman Alan Morrison to flourish in the week’s non-conference affairs.
Morrison is a perfect 5-0 this season with a team best 2.53 ERA. He has also struck out 25 batters in 32 innings pitched.
But even the bullpen has provided substantial relief, as sophomore Reid Lamport (3-0, 2.93 ERA) and Ryan Davis (10 saves) have combined to help form one of the MAC’s most balanced teams.
“I think it’s just a collection of all the guys being able to go out and give us good outings,” Saylor said. “I know that a lot of the guys are young this year, and they’ve really been producing when they’ve been called upon.”
The Flashes have one month remaining on the schedule, after that, they hope to still be playing in the national tournament.
With a talented group of seniors and one of the conference’s most potent lineups, a run deep into the tournament may not be too far fetched.
Contact baseball reporter Matt Gottfried at [email protected]