Freshmen step up for dominating win

Matt Gottfried

Fierce winds and freezing temperatures weren’t enough to cool down Kent State’s hot bats yesterday as the team smacked its non-conference foe Duquense around for 14 hits in a 13-2 victory.

After scoring a combined 61 runs in their previous five games, the Flashes (14-10, 5-2 Mid-American Conference) showed no let-up en route to freshman starting pitcher Alan Morrison’s second straight victory. Morrison held Duquense (6-19, 2-4 Atlantic 10) scoreless for four innings, extending his scoreless streak to nine consecutive innings. He struck out two batters, while surrendering just four hits and dropping his ERA to 0.74 in 12-plus innings of work this season.

“He has done well as a freshman, and we’ve put him in some spots in the mid-week to have success and that’s what he has done,” Kent State coach Scott Stricklin said. “We’d like to see him throw some more strikes, but he comes in here and competes every outing. He comes from a very good high school program, so we expect him to do very well here.”

Morrison ran into trouble early in the top of the first when Duquense’s first two batters reached base, but he quickly settled down to record a strikeout and retire the following two batters. After the early threat, he let his offense go to work.

“It makes you a lot more comfortable on the mound when our offense consistently performs the way it has,” Morrison said. “When we’re getting three runs in just the first inning and are averaging 12 runs a game, it makes it a lot easier to relax. As a pitcher, you just have to go out there and throw strikes and do your job, because you know the offensive is going to do theirs and provide you with support.”

With the aid of Mother Nature and her strong winds lifting the fall outwards, providing offensive support is exactly what the Kent State offense did.

Every player in the starting lineup contributed at least one hit, while all but one scored. Leading the way offensively was freshman designated hitter Jason Patton, who continued his torrid hitting with a pair of doubles and three RBI. Patton came to Kent State from Massillon Perry High School and has made an immediate impact, hitting .365 with two home runs and 16 RBI in 19 games.

“(Patton) has been swinging the ball well for us lately, especially against Central Michigan this weekend,” Stricklin said. “He’s been a good part of the lineup sitting there as the DH, and he’s swung the bat well from the left side.”

Also continuing to swing the bat well for Kent State was senior infielder and co-captain Drew Saylor, who recorded a double and a triple to go along with an RBI. Saylor is hitting .337 this season with six home runs, leading him to earn MAC Hitter of the Week honors Monday for his performance against Central Michigan last weekend.

Junior shortstop Emmanuel Burriss also smacked two hits of his own, as did sophomore right fielder Michael Obyc, who added a run in his sixth start of the season. By the conclusion of the game, Kent State had 10 players with a hit, the biggest coming from freshman Ryan Mitchell who lined the first and only pitch he saw over the left field fence for a solo homerun.

But it was Duquense’s poor defense that allowed the Flashes to obtain a number of extra opportunities, as the Dukes churned out five fielding errors that resulted in five unearned runs.

“We told the guys heading in here to just put the ball in play and make adjustments with two strikes,” Stricklin said. “We did just that, and (Duquense) kicked it around a little bit and we took advantage of it today. We have a lot of speed on this team, and I think we put a lot of pressure on them.”

The Flashes will head into this weekend’s three-game series at Northern Illinois looking to match that pressure as they bring the conference’s top hitting offense of .312. The Huskies enter with a 11-14 overall record and 4-2 in the MAC.

Contact baseball reporter Matt Gottfried at [email protected].