MAC’s top 2 teams to clash in series

Matt Gottfried

While the Kent State baseball team has spent much of the season relying on its highly touted offense, Kent State coach Scott Stricklin said this weekend’s series against Ball State will likely come down to pitching and defense.

The three-game series, set to begin at 3 p.m. this afternoon, features the Mid-American Conference’s top two teams. Both enter with identical records of 6-3 in the conference, as the Flashes (18-11) top the standings in the MAC East Division and the Cardinals (18-14) in the MAC West.

“Ball State is a team that pitches really well and always plays great defense,” Stricklin said. “I believe they lead the conference in hitting and are right up there in pitching. We have to come ready to play against what will be a very tough team.”

The Cardinals enter with the league’s top-ranked defense, committing only 27 errors this season in 32 games. They also have the No. 3 ranked pitching staff with a team ERA of 4.18.

Kent State, meanwhile, carries in the conference’s top offense with its .313 batting average. The Flashes also fall right behind the Cardinals in both pitching and defense with an ERA of 4.47 and a fielding percentage of .967.

“We set out with a goal to win the MAC this year,” senior co-captain Drew Saylor said. “After that, we want to take the MAC tourney title and make some noise in the national tournament. Right now, it’s us and them, so we have to try and come away with a sweep or at least get a series win. First up is Friday though. That’s what our minds are on now.”

Taking the hill in the opening game will be senior Chad Wagler, who carries a 4-3 record and a 3.86 ERA. In 53 innings this season, he has struck out a team-best 32 batters while holding his opponents to a .252 batting average.

Sophomore Steve Ross and junior J.J. Pacella will throw games two and three, respectively. Ross has accumulated a 3-3 record in eight starts this season, while Pacella remains unbeaten this season with a 2-0 record and an ERA of 3.19.

Senior Matt Gard (.342) and junior Justin Rogers (.330) lead the Cardinals’ offense. Ball State senior Brad Miller solidifies the middle of the order, where he leads the MAC in both homeruns (11) and RBIs (36).

Though Miller possesses the ability to change the game with one swing of the bat, Kent State isn’t lacking in that area either.

Senior Emmanuel Burriss occupies the leadoff spot at the top of the order, leading the conference in both hitting (.425) and stolen bases (20). Following him in the order is the conference’s toughest 3-4-5 punch.

Saylor fills the three-hole with his .354 batting average, smacking eight home runs and driving in 36 runs. At clean-up is senior Kurt Eichorn, who has consistently kept his average over the .300 mark all season, while also smashing eight long balls of his own.

In regard to the entire lineup, Stricklin feels this is the best offense he’s had since being at Kent State.

“One through nine, this is as good an offense as I’ve seen,” Stricklin said. “These guys have worked hard all season, and every game someone steps up. We are going to have to keep that up this weekend against Ball State.”

The opening pitch for the three-game series is set to be thrown at 3 p.m. this afternoon at Schoonover Stadium. Both tomorrow’s and Sunday’s games will start at 1 p.m.

Contact baseball reporter Matt Gottfried at [email protected].