Editors note: Wednesday night’s game between Kent State and South Carolina was cancelled due to rain and rescheduled to noon today.
OMAHA, Neb.: Opposing coaches in the College World Series have had nothing but positive things to say about Kent State.
But the Golden Flashes refuse to let go of the chip on their shoulders that has carried them through an unprecedented run in the NCAA Tournament.
Even on Tuesday, senior shortstop Jimmy Rider hoped South Carolina would still be upset about its 2-1 loss Monday to Arkansas and overlook KSU.
“I hope they’re looking to get that Arkansas rematch,” Rider said after practice at Bellevue East High School.
Kent State (47-19) was scheduled to take on two-time defending champion (46-18) South Carolina in an College World Series elimination game Wednesday night at TD Ameritrade Park. Due to heavy rain, the game was postponed and rescheduled for noon today. If Kent State wins, the Flashes will play again at 9 p.m. against Arkansas.
Kent State coach Scott Stricklin probably doesn’t want to correct the Golden Flashes’ perceived slight by college baseball’s superpowers. Of the teams KSU has faced in Omaha, Arkansas was making its seventh trip to the CWS, Florida its eighth and South Carolina its 11th.
“It’s tough for that team to play against us,” Kent State center fielder Evan Campbell said Tuesday, referring to South Carolina. “They’re used to playing the Floridas and the Arkansases, they’re not used to playing Kent State. We get really pumped up to play teams like that and they’re kinda like, ‘Kent State?’ ”
A Mid-American Conference team hadn’t reached the College World Series since Eastern Michigan in 1976.
Since the NCAA Tournament began, Kent State has eliminated Kentucky (Southeastern Conference), Purdue (Big Ten) and Oregon (Pac-12), lost to Arkansas (SEC) and ousted Florida (SEC).
Kent State’s next game will mark the Golden Flashes’ second consecutive game against an SEC foe and fifth in nine NCAA games, including two against Kentucky in the Gary, Ind., regional. KSU will have faced four of the top six seeds in the SEC Tournament – the No. 2 Gamecocks, No. 3 Gators, No. 4 Wildcats and No. 6 Razorbacks. (LSU was No. 1.)
“They’re a powerhouse conference,” Campbell said Tuesday of the SEC. “People underestimate the MAC a little bit, we get overshadowed by the Big Ten and schools like that. It shows the caliber of players we have.”
Before Stricklin’s team left for a best-of-three super regional series in Eugene, Ore., he was playing up the ‘‘Nobody believes in us’’ angle. The Golden Flashes were coming off a 7-6, 21-inning victory over Kentucky, a 7-3 triumph over Purdue and a 3-2 victory over UK in the Gary regional.
“Kentucky showed us nothing but respect, but they still kind of felt like big brother looking down at little brother,” Stricklin said after a practice at Kent State earlier this month. “Even if it wasn’t there, our kids felt like that and wanted to make sure we’re not going to get pushed around.
“Anyone who saw our games with Kentucky would tell you talent-wise it was the same. Both of those games could have gone either way. They played good; we played good.”
Stricklin got the same vibe against Purdue.
“Purdue won the Big Ten by a large margin,” Stricklin said that day at Kent State. “Everyone that saw that game, and it was on the Big Ten Network, saw that we were the better team. That was very satisfying, not only as a coaching staff, but for our players. We felt we were, but to go out there and do it and prove it, it felt really good.”
That afternoon, Rider was trumpeting the same.
“[Kentucky) definitely overlooked us a little bit, them and Purdue,” Rider said. “They felt, ‘They’re a smaller, Mid-American school, we’ll be able to beat these kids easy.’ We can kind of sneak up on some people. It works to our advantage.”
After falling to Arkansas, South Carolina coach Ray Tanner praised his next foe, Kent State.
“They’re very good,” Tanner said. “I got a chance to watch them in the super regional against Oregon. I’ve known coach Stricklin for many years. I think his personality is very special.”
After the Golden Flashes eliminated Florida, Gators coach Kevin O’Sullivan was just as complimentary.
“I’ve got to credit Kent State hitters. They did a nice job ... with two strikes and two outs. They battled and separated themselves,” O’Sullivan said Monday. “It’s an unfortunate way to end the season, but Kent State deserves a lot of credit for the way they played. We have nothing to be ashamed of, but Kent State just did a little bit more and deserved the win.”
The Golden Flashes might have paid no mind to those comments. At this point, they’re sticking to the motivational tactic that works, even if it now requires a little embellishment.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.