KENT: The crowd wasn’t huge, but the sentiment was.
About 50 fans, friends and family members greeted the Kent State baseball team at the gates to Dix Stadium on Monday afternoon, a day after the Golden Flashes won their NCAA Regional in Gary, Ind., by storming through three consecutive games — including two against second-seeded Kentucky.
Had school been in session the crowd likely would have been larger, but those who attended got their message across be it in chalk: “Congratulations KSU Baseball” or on car windshields.
Those messages mattered to the team, judging from the smiles on the players’ faces as they left the bus. Less than 24 hours removed from putting their team’s name on the map nationally, they beamed.
Why shouldn’t they?
After several years of knocking on the door of a super- regional, the Flashes will face the Oregon Ducks this weekend on the Ducks’ home field at PK Park in Eugene, Ore.
“We’ve been here four years now and finally got it done. Last year against Texas we were one game short. We pulled it off this time. It’s unbelievable,” said pitcher David Starn, who started the 21-inning marathon that the Flashes won Friday night.
Coach Scott Stricklin wasted little time qualifying what the victory meant to the school.
“It’s the biggest win in baseball for our school. It’s the equivalent of our basketball team going to the Sweet 16 in ’01-’02,” he said. “It’s just a really proud week for Kent State and our baseball program, our golf program [which finished in a tie for fifth in the NCAA Tournament] and the university in general.”
Players shared their coach’s sentiments.
“I think we’re just trying to take it in right now. It was a fun day yesterday, but I think everyone is just absorbing all the action and everything that’s going on right now,” sophomore pitcher Tyler Skulina said. “Tomorrow everyone will forget about the regional and focus on Oregon.”
The Flashes haven’t gotten a chance to enjoy it too much, however.
Evan Campbell’s home run in Sunday’s win over Kentucky has been called into question by video available from the game.
“When I watched it — now I have biased eyes — I saw it go out of the park. Unfortunately, it is what it is,” Stricklin said. “There’s no instant replay in college baseball. It was called immediately a home run and I hate that that’s the case, but we got the win. We played the best baseball that we could and we brought home the championship.”
The other issues come courtesy of the conference from which the Flashes come. The Mid-American Conference, home to scrappy competition, has little reputation in baseball outside of the area.
That perception was evident in a story that appeared out West in which the team was referred to as the “Golden Eagles.”
“We were talking about it on the bus,” Starn said. “A couple of guys said it was a little bit disrespectful. But we’ll go out there and prove them wrong. We’ll have energy and we’ll show them what Kent State is all about.”
The work for that begins at practice today. Their return home proved to be a day for the team and their fans to relish.
“It’s good to see the national attention it brings to the area. I think it’s a good summation of what coach Stricklin has been doing [with the program],” Stow’s Steve Dowling said. “It may open up the market for other players [to come], so I think it’s going to be great.”
George M. Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.