Baseball splits weekend series with Miami after awaking from offensive slump

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Matthew Brown

Kent State junior Payton Pennington batts during the game on April 24, 2022.

Jacob Hansen, Reporter

The Kent State baseball team struggled to produce runs in its first two games against Miami, but a surge of offense in the last two led KSU to a series split.

The Flashes are now 15-20 overall and 10-12 in Mid-American Conference play. They are in fifth place in the conference.

The Redhawks (12-15 MAC, 17-23 overall) are in sixth. The top four teams will make the conference tournament, which will take place May 25-28.

“This team never quits, and obviously the series didn’t go like we wanted it to,” coach Jeff Duncan said. “But we fought right back and got these two wins.”

Kent State’s hot offense was stifled by Miami in a 4-0 game one loss.

After a scoreless first two innings, Miami struck first with a solo home run in the top of the third inning.

Two more scoreless innings passed until Miami had some two-out magic with a double and an RBI single to take a 2-0 lead in the top of the sixth.

Freshman pitcher Eric Chalus exited the game with six strikeouts in 5.2 innings of work, giving up eight hits, no walks and allowing just two runs.

Unfortunately the Flashes couldn’t get Chalus any run support as Miami tacked on two more runs in the ninth.

KSU has featured some impressive offense over the past couple games, but were met with some impressive Miami pitching allowing zero runs on just six hits.

It was the first shutout of the season for the Flashes.

“There have been ups and downs to this season,” Duncan said. “Just making sure that we have that mindset of looking out of the front window as opposed to the rear window, and we look to improve off the mistakes we’ve had.”

The Flashes lost 4-3 after Miami stormed back in the last inning to take game two. 

Kent State’s offense went cold in game one, however the team started off strong in game two.

After junior left fielder Josh Johnson hit an RBI single; junior second baseman Mack Timbrook scored all the way from first putting on some aggressive base running and the Flashes were first on the board in the bottom of the second.

The two-out magic continued as senior center fielder Collin Mathews was hit by a pitch. Freshman designated hitter Connor Ashby reached on an infield single, beating a wild throw to first that allowed Johnson to score. KSU pulled off a double steal allowed Mathews to steal home and score, taking a 3-0 lead.

This would be the last time Kent State scored in the game, as three scoreless innings passed until the top of the sixth where Miami hit a two-run homer to bring the Redhawks within one.

Then, in the top of the seventh, Miami put on the rally caps as back-to-back doubles tied the game up for the RedHawks. Junior catcher Justin Miknis threw out the runner at second after a failed bunt attempt tripped the runner up and was picked off at second. Miknis threw three runners out in this game.

However, a fielding error allowed a runner to get on, and he was tripled home for the walk-off win.

“We keep a philosophy of getting better every day,” Duncan said. “And not worrying so much about the result all the time, just making sure that we do better, especially with a young team.”

KSU’s offense yet again was cold, only having four hits in the game. Redshirt junior pitcher Benjamin Cruikshank pitched five innings, striking out three batters on four hits, only allowing two runs. The Flashes struck out 14 times in this game.

Two Kent State players celebrate after a home run during the game on April 24, 2022. (Matthew Brown)

Kent State’s offense came alive for a 10-9 victory in game three. 

Miami kicked off the high-scoring run affair with two runs in the top of the first. But, Kent State didn’t allow the early offense to rattle them.

Sophomore third baseman Kyle Jackson struck out, but reached on a wild pitch. A double by Timbrook put runners on first and third where sophomore shortstop Michael McNamara scored Jackson home on an RBI groundout, and the Flashes were trailing 2-1 after one inning.

Johnson kicked off the bottom of the second with a single and advanced second on an error. A groundout advanced him to third where Mathews brought him home on a sacrifice fly to tie the game at two.

Miami was able to get a runner in scoring position on a throwing error and then scored on a single in the top of the third. Timbrook picked up an RBI double in the bottom of the third after a hit by pitch and a single. Johnson then picked up a two run single to take a 5-3 lead. Johnson then stole second and was brought home off a single from sophomore first baseman Aidan Longwell to extend the lead to 6-3.

Back-to-back singles for the Flashes to lead off the bottom of the fourth allowed McNamara to pick up an RBI single, pushing the lead to 7-3.

Miami struck back in the top of the sixth with a two-run homer to bring the game within two.

Senior right fielder Justin Kirby provided some two- out magic in the bottom of the seventh with a double. Longwell singled him home to move the lead to 8-5.

Four singles in the top of the eighth allowed Miami to bring the game within one, and an RBI sacrifice bunt allowed Miami to tie the game.

Miami nearly pulled off another late inning comeback after a single and a double in the top of the ninth. A sacrifice fly allowed Miami to take the lead 9-8. However, a walk and single put runners at the corner for Kent State. A sacrifice bunt allowed the runner to move to second where senior catcher Sam Thompson scored an RBI groundout to tie the game at nine.

Miami hit back-to-back KSU players, and a bunt single brought Johnson to the plate with the bases loaded. Johnson ended the game with an RBI single to put the Flashes back in the win column.

Kent State found its offense again, scoring 10 runs with 14 hits.

“I think we are very dynamic offensively and we’ve shown that all year,” Duncan said. “I think that’s why we are at the top or one of the top in offense because we can produce runs.”

KSU is second in the MAC in batting average (.295), but are tied for eighth in runs (235).

The Flashes unleashed the offense in the final game with six home runs. 

Game four didn’t start out great for Kent State as freshman pitcher Rocco Bernadina hit two batters and gave up a single, leading to two Miami runners scoring on a fielder’s choice throwing error. Back-to-back doubles for Miami allowed three more to score to take a 5-0 lead in the top of the first.

The Flashes didn’t waste any time answering back, with a lead-off home run by junior third baseman Payton Pennington in the bottom of the first. Timbrook singled next and then McNamara hit the second home run of the inning to put the Flashes within two.

Pennington doubled in the bottom of the second and then McNamara hit his second home run of the game, tying it at five.

Miami struck again with a solo home run in the bottom of the fifth to take a 6-5 lead. Kent State responded right away with two singles and a towering three-run blast by Johnson to regain the lead 8-6.

“Today, being down five to nothing in the first inning, didn’t quite go how we wanted,” Duncan said. “But we had a response for everything and we certainly talk about that in our locker room.”

Three straight KSU walks loaded the bases and a fourth one allowed Kent State to score yet again. Johnson tacked on another one to extend the lead to 10-6.

Miami wasn’t giving up that easy, scoring three runs on three hits and an error in the top of the seventh to bring the game to within one.

The Flashes didn’t allow Miami to get comfortable, when Mathews hit a pinch hit two-run bomb to left center extending the lead to 12-9. Then Pennington doubled and was followed up by a Timbrook triple. Timbrook’s triple was followed by a McNamara single, extending the lead 14-9.

Kirby led off the bottom of the eighth with a solo home run to left field. Two singles later brought up Pennington where he scored two runs on a single, now leading 17-9. Miami tacked one on in the top of the ninth, but was all too late.

It was a hit parade for the Flashes as they had 17 hits in the game and drew nine walks.

“We average just under seven runs a game,” Duncan said. “We are very dynamic, we can bunt, we can run, we can move the baseball when we need to and we can drive the baseball out of the park.”

Kent State next will take on Akron (9-19, 11-28), which is in 10th place in the conference, for a four-game weekend series. The first game is scheduled for Friday.

Jacob Hansen is a reporter. Contact him at [email protected]