George M. Thomas
KENT: The Kentucky Wildcats (43-16) are growling right now, but not because they have to play the Kent State Golden Flashes (41-17) in the Gary, Ind., NCAA baseball regional tournament.
Words like “getting screwed” have crept into the vocabulary of coaches and players who express their dismay at not having been given the chance to host a regional bracket in the tournament.
“I think the same thing that you do,” coach Gary Henderson told the Louisville Courier Journal. “I think we got screwed.”
Instead of worrying about what can’t be controlled, the Wildcats might do well to turn their focus on the team they’ll face at 4 p.m. Friday. The one that’s on a 17-game winning streak. The one that just won the MAC Championship and is getting ready to appear in its fourth consecutive regional. Smaller things other than tournament seeding have upended talented teams in post-season play.
“If they’re too (mad) about not being a (No.) 1 seed, that will take the focus off them coming out and doing what they need to do against us and not being prepared. We’ll try to take full advantage of that,” said David Starn, KSU’s starting pitcher Friday.
The fact is that the teams are on different playing levels for the moment. While UK has struggled to the tournament, playing just .500 ball at 10-10 for the last third of the season, Kent on the other hand owns the nation’s longest current winning streak.
“Kentucky is a really good team. I know they started off (22-0),” said infielder George Roberts. “They’ve been down a little bit the past few games, but they’re still a really good team.”
Roberts understands their position.
“They were expecting to get a No. 1 seed in the regional and host it and they didn’t get that. I’d say they were pretty motivated to come out and kick some butt,” he said.
But the Flashes are focused on who they are and what they have to do.
“We know we’re playing our best baseball right now and that’s what we’re focusing on — going about our business and what we do every day,” Starn (10-3, 1.77 ERA) said. “We just need to go about our business, giving our team a good chance to win. If we do that we have a good chance to win the regional.”
Advancing to a super regional would be the way for the Golden Flashes to garner more respect.
The players know that they can’t sneak up on bigger schools any longer, but even Kent State players occasionally feel differently.
“I think the big-name schools look at us as a small school still. (We’re) not really a big-time baseball school. (But) we’re getting our name out there. I think people recognize who we are now and won’t take us lightly,” Starn said.
Indeed, the Golden Flashes almost got to a super regional last year only to lose to the Texas Longhorns. It’s something they remember.
“We were definitely thinking about it because we were one game away from getting to a super regional,” Roberts said.
They needed to win just one game to advance, but instead allowed Texas to beat them twice, letting things slip away, Roberts said.
In the meantime Kent State coach Scott Stricklin wants his players to know one thing.
“I think (coach) Gary Henderson will have them ready to play,” he said. “In fact, I know he will have them ready to play. They’ve got very talented players. We’re just focused on them as a team right now and I’m sure they’ll be focused on us.”
George M. Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Zips blog at https://ohio.com/zips. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.