Flashes battle winds to win

Matt Gottfried

Senior Kurt Eichorn (24) slides back into first to avoid being tagged out at first base. Kent State beat Youngstown State 11-7 yesterday afternoon. DAVID FOSTER | DAILY KENT STATER

Credit: Steve Schirra

With 25-plus mph winds blowing to straight-away centerfield, Kent State’s non-conference showdown with Youngstown State yesterday consisted of ideal conditions for power hitters.

Neither team disappointed, as they combined for five home runs and 27 hits in the Flashes’ 11-7 victory.

It didn’t take long for the Flashes (18-11, 6-3 Mid-American Conference) to launch the game’s first long ball either, as senior co-captain Drew Saylor lined Youngstown State starter Ryan Wackerman’s offering over the fence for a 2-run shot in the bottom half of the first.

The home run was his eighth of the season and second in two games after going 3-of-5 against Duquesne with a solo shot Tuesday afternoon.

Through the team’s first 29 games of the season, he remains just one home run short of his career-best set last season.

“Really I’ve just been doing the same thing all year,” Saylor said. “It’s really a simple thing in this game. You see the ball, you hit the ball. I usually only get in trouble when I get too relaxed, which is what happened toward the end of last year. I always put myself in a situation when I’m up at bat, which helps to keep me focused.”

Saylor, who entered the contest with a .350 batting average, went 2-of-3 against the Penguins. He drove in three runs after recording five in Tuesday’s victory, adding to his team-high 36 RBIs.

Despite his recent success, Saylor said it’s not just him who has been hitting well.

“It’s really the whole team that has been working hard, not just me,” he said. “We’ve all been doing really well, I mean (Emmanuel) Burriss, (Todd) Balduf, (Andrew) Davis, all those guys have had great seasons too. Everyone has put in a lot of hard work to get better.”

Davis led all Kent State hitters with his 3-of-5 performance at the plate, smashing his second home run in as many games. He scored three times and fell a triple short of the cycle. On the season, he is hitting .361 with 25 RBIs and 27 runs.

Meanwhile, Balduf has made the most of every opportunity serving as the backup catcher to Will Vazquez. In 24 games, he is hitting .295 after his 2-of-3 performance last night. He drove in one run and scored two times against the Penguins.

“The catching position is such an important part in baseball and it’s a real luxury to have two quality catchers in Todd (Balduf) and Will (Vazquez),” Kent State coach Scott Stricklin said. “Really, both of those guys could be starting on any other team in the MAC, that’s how good they are.”

On the mound, freshman Alan Morrison picked up his third straight win to improve to 3-0 on the season. He tossed five innings, scattering six hits for three runs.

With the gusty winds at his disadvantage, Morrison ran into early trouble as his stretch of 10-straight scoreless innings came to an end when Youngstown State senior Justin Banks lined a solo blast in the second inning.

In addition to the home run, Morrison’s first seven outs of the game were all recorded on deep flyouts to the outfield.

“We always talk about keeping the ball down and he had a little trouble with that early on,” Stricklin said. “He made some adjustments, though, later in the game and really battled out there to get the win.”

Kent State’s offense, which entered the game as the MAC’s top hitting team, ranks No. 19 nationally with an average of 8.2 runs per game.

The Flashes will look to continue their offensive tear this weekend when they host the MAC West Division leading Ball State Cardinals (17-14, 6-3 MAC). As always, the Flashes will rely heavily one of the program’s best offenses in recent memory.

“This is by far the best offense we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Saylor said. “We are real balanced and have very few, if any, weak spots. There are times when the guy coming off the bench is better than the one coming out, that’s how much depth we have.”

Contact baseball reporter Matt Gottfried at [email protected]