Flashes hot as tournament approaches

Matt Gottfried

Members of the Kent State baseball team celebrate a grand slam hit by senior catcher Todd Balduf during Wednesday’s home game against Wooster. The Flashes beat the Fighting Scots 12-1. The Flashes head to Athens for a three-game series with Ohio this week

Credit: Carl Schierhorn

With a one-game lead in the Mid-American Conference and only four conference series remaining, the Kent State baseball team has its sights set on a potential postseason tournament run.

The Flashes (25-13, 11-4 MAC) are ranked No. 2 in the MAC in both hitting (.314) and pitching (4.24 ERA). They are No. 1 in home runs with 37 this season, as well opponent’s batting average, in which the pitching staff has held hitters to a .240 average.

Kent State is also the winner of five straight games, and 14 of its last 17.

But standing in its way in the next two weeks are the Bowling Green Falcons (21-17, 9-6 MAC) and Ohio Bobcats (14-19, 7-8 MAC), who rank No. 2 and No. 3, respectively, in the MAC East Division.

In the first series of the crucial two-week span, the Flashes will take on the Bobcats in Athens this weekend after picking up two wins earlier in the week against Cleveland State and Wooster.

“It’s always good to have a win going into the weekend,” Kent State coach Scott Stricklin said. “This weekend is really important for the MAC standings, and I think our guys are ready.”

Reigning MAC Pitcher of the Week Chad Wagler will take to the hill in the first contest which is set to begin this evening at 6 p.m. The senior ace has earned a 6-3 record this season with a 3.63 ERA, while also striking out a team-high 43 batters. He’ll be looking to repeat his previous performance against Miami in last weekend’s series opener, where he held the RedHawks to three hits in eight scoreless innings.

Sophomore Steve Ross and junior J.J. Pacella are the projected starters for tomorrow and Sunday’s contests. Ross is 4-3 this season with a 5.15 ERA, while Pacella remains unbeaten with a perfect 4-0 record and an 2.80 ERA.

Among the hot hitters heading into the weekend are senior Joe Tucker and junior Emmanuel Burriss. In the two non-conference games held earlier this week, Tucker accumulated seven hits and five RBIs in addition to a home run in Tuesday’s contest at Cleveland State. He also scored a total of five runs in the games.

Burriss, on the other hand, has continued to lead the conference in hitting with his .392 batting average. He accounted for five hits during the week, including a pair of runs and RBIs. His biggest hit came against the Vikings, where he hit a solo shot.

Despite the power coming from the top two hitters earlier in the week, the bottom half of the lineup wasn’t outdone. Senior catcher Todd Balduf, who bats sixth, smashed a grand slam in the Flashes’ 12-1 rout of Wooster Wednesday afternoon. It was his sixth home run of the season.

“Every weekend is big, but we really need this one,” Balduf said. “It will be fun going down to Athens and playing under the lights. Everyone is feeling really good and is excited about this series.”

Kent State’s balanced offensive attack will look to remain in full force this weekend against the MAC’s No. 10 ranked pitching staff. The Flashes have seven batters in their lineup hitting over .300, including seniors Drew Saylor and Kurt Eichorn, who lead the team in home runs with 11 and 10, respectively.

Contact baseball reporter Matt Gottfried at [email protected].