KENT: Kent State’s baseball team knows all about how difficult it can be to win games as a prohibitive favorite in the postseason.

The Golden Flashes were seeded first in the Mid-American Conference Tournament for the past three years, but did not emerge from the fray with a title until they bludgeoned Miami 14-0 in the championship game last Saturday night in Avon.

Now the Flashes will flip roles at 7 p.m. Friday when they open play in the NCAA Lubbock (Tex.) Regional as the third seed against a juggernaut No. 2 seed Louisville squad that’s captured five regional titles in a row and qualified for the College World Series three times in the last five years.

“In all honesty I think the toughest part for us is over, as far as getting through the MAC Tournament and having that target off your back. Now we can just go play and really enjoy this,” KSU coach Jeff Duncan said. “This is the fun time of the year. We’ve got nothing to lose. We play Louisville in game one, and all the media has them going to the College World Series again. This is a good opportunity for us. I think it’s going to be a great game.

“Hopefully we go play good baseball and shock the world.”

The Flashes sent shockwaves through college baseball just six years ago, when they advanced to the CWS for the first time in program history by knocking off Big Ten champion Purdue, No. 12 Kentucky (twice) and No. 10 Oregon (twice). Kent State then eliminated No. 1 ranked Florida at the 2012 CWS in Omaha.

A similar lineup of stellar foes awaits the Flashes (39-16) this year, starting with a Cardinals team (43-17) that’s won 14 of its last 17 games. When Kent State last advanced to the NCAA Regional in 2014, it opened with a 5-0 loss to host Louisville.

Junior outfielder Josh Stowers (.341 average, 9 homers, 59 RBI, 33 steals) and sophomore first baseman Logan Wyatt (.336, 22 doubles, 59 RBI) headline an athletic Cardinals offense that features four players with 14 or more stolen bases.

The Flashes have a pair of their own speedsters at the top of the order in seniors Nick Kanavas (20 steals) and Mason Mamarella (33).

Keeping the Cardinals’ athletes off the basepaths will be a challenge for Flashes junior ace Joey Murray (9-1, 1.71), who has enjoyed a phenomenal season overall (MAC record-tying 139 strikeouts in 94⅔ innings) but has walked 10 in his last 9⅓ innings.

“He threw a really good bullpen [Tuesday]. The last couple of weeks his bullpens haven’t been good, and he hasn’t pitched well based on his standards,” Duncan said. “I think he’s getting that second wind.”

Louisville is tentatively expected to send Adam Wolf to the mound on Friday. The Flashes are familiar with Wolf (7-2, 2.26), who starred at Edison High School in Milan.

“He’s a guy we recruited, a big-time lefty,” Duncan said. “He’s going to sit at 89-93 [mph] with a good breaking ball and a change-up.”

Kent State (3.56 team ERA) and Louisville (3.26) both feature stellar pitching staffs, but keeping the bats tame in Texas will not be easy, Duncan said.

“The ball flies out there, especially this time of year. It’s going to be 108 degrees on Friday, with the wind blowing out,” he said.

The Lubbock Region’s other two entries, host and No. 1 seed Texas Tech (39-17) and No. 4 seed New Mexico State (40-20), are both built around power to take advantage of the elements in their region. The Red Raiders have hit 73 homers in 2018, and the Aggies have belted 59. Kent State and Louisville check in at 37 and 38, respectively.

“We’re facing some powerful offensive clubs, but a lot of times really good pitching can slow that down,” Duncan said.

Along with excellent pitching, solid defense and pesky hitting have been keys to consistent success for the Flashes, who have scored four or more runs in 41 of 55 contests.

“I like our starting pitchers. I like our bullpen. Defensively I think we’re as solid as ever,” Duncan said. “Our offense has been able to consistently find ways to score enough runs to put us in position to win. We have all the necessary pieces to compete. We don’t need to change anything, just go out and stay focused on winning one pitch at a time. That’s what got us here.”

Friday’s winners will meet on Saturday at 8 p.m., while the losers face a 3 p.m. elimination game.