KENT: Kent State had to feel fortunate in its 6-3 victory Saturday night over Central Michigan, which extended its win streak to a season-best eight games.
The Golden Flashes (27-20, 14-6 Mid-American Conference) rode the groove of pitcher Tyler Skulina (4-3), who retired 11 consecutive batters, and first baseman George Roberts, who went 4-for-5 with two RBI and a run scored.
However, the Chippewas (19-25, 8-12) kept it close until the eighth inning because the Flashes left 12 batters on base, including two innings where the bases were loaded.
“From the first inning on, we did a poor job,” Kent State baseball coach Scott Stricklin said. “We left way too many guys on base. We had opportunities to score runs and we just didn’t do it. We allowed them to hang around. … We were very fortunate.”
Stricklin would have welcomed some of those runs in the top of the seventh inning with the Flashes holding a 4-2 lead and Skulina showing signs of wear. Chippewas first baseman Zack Fields hit a double to center, and moved to third base on a passed ball. He scored when teammate Morgan Oliver hit a sacrifice fly that cut the lead to 4-3.
That was enough for Stricklin to turn to his bullpen. Pitcher Dan Kopcak arrived with Chippewas right fielder Randon Henika at second base, courtesy of a double. A passed ball moved Henika to third before Kopcak retired the last two batters to get his team out of trouble.
Skulina, a Walsh Jesuit product, gave up four hits and three runs, two earned, striking out eight in 6· innings.
Stricklin said he didn’t know what happened to Skulina’s rhythm.
“He might have hit a wall,” Stricklin said. “He only threw 90 pitches. He got out of his groove. He was throwing really well.”
Fortunately for the Flashes, the Chippewas’ defense committed five errors, including one at a critical moment in the game.
Shortstop Sawyer Polen began the bottom of the eighth by reaching on a throwing error. A sacrifice bunt moved him over. Sensing trouble, Central Michigan coach Steve Jaska went to the bullpen.
Kent State first baseman George Roberts ripped a double to center, driving Polen home and eventually moved to third on a throwing error. Moments later, a wild pitch brought Roberts home, giving the Golden Flashes a 6-3 lead.
The victory gives Kent State its longest win streak of the season, and it arrives at just the right time with only seven MAC games left.
“I just think we are playing with more confidence. We played back on our heels early on [in the season],” Stricklin said.
But the coach is far from satisfied.
“This wasn’t a masterpiece by any stretch,” he said. “We had a chance to score a lot of runs and we didn’t do it. We’ve got to get better. To be a championship team, you have to play like one all the time, and we didn’t play like one. We were fortunate to win, but we didn’t play like a championship team.”