AVON: The end of Saturday’s Mid-American Conference Championship game between Kent State and Western Michigan couldn’t have come any sooner than it did for the Flashes.
The seventh-seeded Broncos shelled the top-seeded Golden Flashes 12-7 at All Pro Freight Stadium in Avon to clinch the MAC title and earn an NCAA berth.
Western Michigan (22-32) dominated from the beginning and led 12-0 until the eighth inning, when Kent State (44-14) exploded for seven runs but got no closer.
“This team doesn’t quit,” Flashes coach Jeff Duncan said. “It’s unfortunate that it ended like this. In these types of situations, it’s how good you’re playing at that time, and we just couldn’t get the mojo going quite as much as we’d liked to.”
The Flashes’ huge eighth inning was capped by a three-run triple by junior Luke Burch and a pinch-hit, three-run home run by sophomore Brad Hamilton to left.
“We’ve shown all year long that you’re going to have to really beat us to beat us, and I think we’ve been in it every game,” Duncan said. “Even when it’s 12-0, we still feel like we’ve got a chance to win.”
Western Michigan starter Keegan Akin owned inside command of his 90-plus mph fastball to both the right- and left-handed hitters, and the Flashes just didn’t have an answer for him, Duncan said.
“I knew we were in trouble,” Duncan said.
The junior right-hander was dealing. He collected nine strikeouts in six shutout innings and, when batters fell behind in the count, the result yielded a plethora of pop flies and strikeouts.
“Their guy’s the real deal,” Duncan said. “We were taking pitches and trying to get him out of there, but he just executed pitches and that was the difference in the game.”
Kent State’s pitching didn’t help the cause much, either, as Western Michigan pounded out 13 hits. The Flashes cycled through seven pitchers, with starting pitcher Connor Wollersheim surrendering five runs in 3? innings of work.
The Broncos demonstrated patience at the plate against Wollersheim, getting ahead in counts, sitting on bad pitches and waiting to clobber the good ones. Through the first four innings, Western Michigan collected seven hits against Wollersheim, while Kent State only mustered one against Akin.
After mounting a five-run lead through five innings, the Broncos blew the game even more wide open in the sixth, striking for five runs on four hits and one Kent State error.
“It was just one of those things,” Duncan said. “They were better than us today, and that’s baseball.”
Errors also proved costly, which has been a consistent thorn in the Flashes’ side throughout the MAC Tournament. In the past three tournament games against Eastern Michigan and Western Michigan, the Flashes committed a total of 11 errors — an eyesore stat that doesn’t exactly help win games.
“When you’re facing 13 hits and four errors, that’s going to be a tough game to win,” Duncan said.
With the win, Western Michigan advanced to the NCAA Regional for the first time since 1989. Duncan said he doesn’t feel confident Kent State will receive an at-large bid after losing two games in the MAC Tournament, but commended his team nonetheless. He said the team’s final tournament run was not the best testament to its historic 44 win season, the third-most in program history.