AVON: After a loss to Ball State in the Mid-American Conference Tournament on Friday at All Pro Freight Stadium, Kent State baseball coach Scott Stricklin was understandably unhappy with his team.
No fire. No pep. A lack of fundamentals. It began with a 10:40 a.m. first pitch, and the Golden Flashes played as if they were sleepwalking.
“They have a decision to make,” Stricklin said. “They can either quit or they can compete. We have to win four games now. We have to win four games to win this championship. It’s their decision. We’ll find out what kind of team we are.”
Apparently his team got the message as the Flashes (36-22) drubbed Miami 7-0 in their second game of the day.
Starter Casey Wilson pitched a shutout — the first of his career. He scattered eight hits and gave up one walk, never really having to endure a serious threat from the RedHawks (26-30).
“A complete-game shutout, you can’t ask anything more of him,” Stricklin said. “That’s what we needed to get through tomorrow.”
Wilson’s effort saved the team’s bullpen in case it’s called upon today, when the Flashes face the possibility of playing two games to return to the championship game.
“Coach Strick said that he needed someone to step up to try to save our bullpen,” Wilson said. “I guess it was me and it feels really good. It’s a pretty huge deal to be able to save our bullpen like that.”
Because of Wilson, the Golden Flashes needed just the lone run they received when second baseman Derek Toadvine scored in the first inning on a single by first baseman George Roberts, offering a possible awakening from their early morning malaise.
If that didn’t, the third inning certainly offered some proof.
The inning opened with the Flashes slapping three consecutive hits. Toadvine, who served as KSU’s spark, and shortstop Sawyer Polen started it with singles. Then center fielder Evan Campbell brought Toadvine home.
The Flashes were far from done. With a little help from RedHawks starting pitcher Nathan Williams, KSU loaded the bases. Williams’ second walk of the inning brought Polen home for a 3-0 score. Consecutive singles from right fielder T.J. Sutton and catcher Justin Wagler scored three more runs and completed scoring in the inning before a double play ended the rally with KSU ahead 6-0.
“It was encouraging to see us hit like that,” Stricklin said. “It’s frustrating when you watched it in the morning and it’s not there and then all of a sudden it’s there. That’s the way baseball is and we just have to put that behind us.”
Much credit goes to Toadvine, who went 3-for-4 with three runs scored and three stolen bases for the game.
“He’s the key to our offense,” Stricklin said. “When he gets on, he puts pressure on people.”
One remnant from the second-round loss remains — three games remain before the Flashes can call themselves MAC Tournament champs again, and Stricklin knows what’s needed to get there.
“Getting yourself into the losers’ bracket in this tournament is tough,” Stricklin said, “and the only way you’re going to get yourself out of it is if you get great pitching performances.”
George M. Thomas can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Zips blog at http://www.ohio.com/zips. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.