Flashes retain first place in MAC East

Matt Gottfried

Pacella delivers strong pitching performance in rubber match as KSU beats Ball State in weekend series

Senior left fielder Kurt Elchorn hits the ball against Ball State yesterday afternoon. Kent State beat Ball State 7-2 at Schoonover Stadium. The Flashes were the only team in the conference to win all four series in the cross-division matchups. MICHELE R

Credit: Carl Schierhorn

After taking the first game, 7-6, of a crucial three-game series with Ball State Friday, the Kent State baseball team was feeling pretty happy with the start of its holiday weekend – especially after accumulating a 9-3 lead through six innings of play in Saturday’s contest.

Unfortunately for the Flashes (20-12, 8-4 MAC), the Mid-American Conference West Division-leading Cardinals capitalized on Justin Roger’s seventh-inning grand slam to jump-start a series of seven unanswered runs in the last three innings to knock off the Flashes, 10-9.

But the hot hitting would be short lived for Ball State (19-16, 7-5 MAC), as Kent State senior J.J. Pacella continued his stretch of solid pitching with a three-hit gem in yesterday’s 7-2 victory. In his seven innings of work, Pacella (3-0, 2.84 ERA) held the Cardinals to just one run.

“We could not ask for anything more than what J.J.’s done,” Kent State coach Scott Stricklin said in an online press release. “Traditionally, Sunday is the day there’s a lot of runs scored because pitching is depleted, but what J.J.’s been able to do for us is the complete opposite.”

Kent State capitalized on a big inning of its own in the win yesterday, scoring six runs in the sixth frame to cruise to a 7-0 lead. Senior Kurt Eichorn got things started with a two-run homer, his second such bomb in many games. He currently leads the team in home runs with 10, while also driving in a team-best 39 runs.

Junior Will Vazquez also got involved in the six-run inning, driving in a pair of runs on a two-run single after senior Todd Balduf walked and freshman Brad Winter singled.

In addition to Eichorn’s pair of hits, Winter and freshman Chris Tremblay recorded the team’s other multi-hit performances. Winter went 2-for-3 on the afternoon, while Tremblay laced a pair of singles to go along with an RBI.

The Cardinals attempted another late rally in the eighth inning, scoring two runs to get on the board. But the Kent State bullpen entered to do something it failed to accomplish in Saturday’s game – shut down the strong Cardinal bats.

Sophomore Dominique Rodgers closed out the final two innings, scattering three hits for one run. His relief appearance helped clinch the Flashes’ second win in the series, the fourth consecutive time they’ve come away with a conference series win.

“I feel we had the toughest schedule of anybody, when you look at the crossover games,” Stricklin said. “We’ve put ourselves in a great position at 8-4 going into divisional play. And I think our tough schedule early on, really prepared us for this.”

In the victory Friday, the Flashes got off to a quick start in scoring all seven of their runs in the first three innings. That proved to be just enough, as the Cardinals responded with six unanswered runs of their own.

Senior Chad Wagler picked up the win on the mound to improve to 5-3, tossing five-plus innings and giving up four runs. Ball State outhit Kent State 12 to six, but the top defensive team in the MAC committed an uncharacteristic four errors that led to a pair of unearned runs.

Much like Stricklin addressed at the start of the weekend series, defense was expected to be a key in the clash between the MAC East-leading Flashes and the MAC West-leading Cardinals. In addition to the Cardinals’ woes on Friday, the Flashes, too, fell victim to defensive blunders.

Two Kent State errors resulted in four unearned runs in Saturday’s contest, three of which came during the bullpen’s stint on the mound. It wasn’t before senior Jon Miller entered in the final inning-plus of work that the Cardinal bats were cooled off.

“To lose the way we did (Saturday) and come back the way we did (yesterday) … I think that really says a lot about our team,” Stricklin said. “(Saturday) was probably the toughest loss I’ve had to take as a head coach and (yesterday) was the biggest win we’ve had.”

With the two wins this weekend, the Flashes have won 12 of their last 15 games to compile a MAC-best 8-4 record. They are averaging more than 10 runs a game during that stretch, falling only twice through the entire month of April.

The Flashes will look to continue their winning ways tomorrow, when they host Malone for a non-conference affair. The contest begins at 3 p.m. at Schoonover Stadium.

Contact baseball reporter Matt Gottfried at [email protected].