Stephanie Storm


When Jeff Duncan took over as Kent State baseball coach last June, the Golden Flashes hoped it would be a seamless transition following the departure of coach Scott Stricklin after eight seasons.



Fans waited to see if the winning would continue for a team only two seasons removed from reaching the College World Series.



It most certainly did.



On Sunday, Kent State knocked off rival University of Akron 3-0 to claim the Mid-American Conference title and an automatic bid into NCAA regional play, which begins today.



Regional play is a double-elimination format with each winner advancing to super regional play.



“Dunc’s been a great transition and he’s done a great job,” junior right-handed pitcher John Fasola said. “It’s awesome to be behind him as a coach. The tradition here is winning, and that’s what we wanted to do this year. We just picked up where we left off.”



Placed in the Louisville regional bracket, No. 4 seed Kent State (36-21) begins its quest to return to college baseball’s biggest stage when it takes on No. 1 seed Louisville (45-15) at 6 tonight. Also featured in the bracket are No. 2 seed Kentucky (35-23) and No. 3 seed Kansas (34-24).



The Flashes and Cardinals have faced each other six times recently — three games last season and three others during 2011.



Kent State’s only win came in the third game last season when it defeated No. 4-ranked Louisville. All-time, the teams have split 28 games.



Kentucky is also a familiar opponent for Kent State.



The Flashes faced the Wildcats twice in their last NCAA regional appearance in 2012. Although Kent State is just 2-5 all-time against Kentucky, the Flashes won the past two meetings.



After surviving an epic 21-inning, 7-6 dramatic opener during their College World Series run two seasons ago, Kent State claimed the regional victory with another 7-6 win over the Wildcats.



Unlike the other teams in the Louisville bracket with Kent State, the Flashes haven’t faced Kansas previously.



“Pressure is fine, that’s just [the] expectation,” Duncan said of coming in and being expected to win right away during the regular season and beyond with Kent State. “It’s what this baseball program’s all about, this whole athletic program really. Expectations are high and you just like to be able to carry that torch.”



When Duncan was asked how much it meant to step in and lead the Flashes to the MAC championship and into regional play in his first season, he quickly steered the attention away from himself.



“It means a lot moving forward, but let me say first that my coaching staff is outstanding,” he said. “When you have a pitching coach that’s been here for as long as [Mike] Birkbeck [18 years] and all the success he’s had, I’m blessed to have this coaching staff.”



High expectations and a top-notch staff are a good combination to help make taking over Kent State’s successful baseball program a seamless transition.



Stephanie Storm can be reached at sstorm@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/abj.sports.