AVON: David Starn had pitched eight shutout innings Wednesday night to help Kent State cruise past Buffalo in the first round of the Mid-American Conference Tournament.
But when Golden Flashes coach Scott Stricklin asked his senior ace before Saturday’s championship game whether he was available to pitch that afternoon if need be, Starn didn’t hesitate. “I was pretty tired, but I thought I’d be able to come in,” said Starn, the Mid-American Conference Pitcher of the Year who also earned MAC Tournament Most Valuable Player. “I had extra time to warm up and everything, so I treated it like it was a normal start, like it was the first inning.”
So after starter Ryan Mace limited Central Michigan to a run on five hits in the first four innings, Stricklin didn’t hesitate to send in Starn.
Starn was effectively wild in shutting out CMU for three scoreless innings on just one hit and four walks, and his gutsy performance was pivotal in Kent State’s 3-1 win at All-Pro Freight Stadium.
“I asked David before the game if I needed to put his name up on the chart and he said, ‘Yes, absolutely,’?” Stricklin said. “He wanted to pitch, he wanted the ball.”
With the win, the Flashes (41-17) increase the nation’s longest winning streak to 17 games. They also clinched their fourth consecutive MAC title and the conference’s automatic bid to the upcoming NCAA Tournament.
Central Michigan scored first when Pat MacKenzie led off the third inning with a single, advanced on a sacrifice bunt and scored on William Arnold’s single. After retiring the first two batters he faced the next inning, Mace issued a walk and then gave up a single to put two runners in scoring position.
Starn, a left-hander, began warming up, but Mace struck out Eric Wrozek to end the threat.
CMU starter Patrick Kaminska gave up three consecutive hits to the Flashes in the bottom of the inning, including back-to-back ground-rule doubles by Nick Hamilton and T.J. Sutton, and KSU scored two runs to take a 2-1 lead.
Ryan Longstreth relieved Kaminska in the sixth and gave up a run. Sutton was hit by a pitch with one out, advanced to third on Sawyer Polen’s ground-rule double and scored on Alex Miklos’ groundout to give KSU a 3-1 lead.
“Playing in a tournament like this, the biggest thing is the energy,” said Sutton, a GlenOak graduate who went 2-for-3 with two RBI and a run scored. “Early on, I don’t think we had it. They definitely had a lot of momentum coming in off the big win last night, then gunning Miami down this morning. We came out a little flat before [the back-to-back doubles] got us going.”
Starn showed signs of vulnerability, allowing the leadoff man to reach in all three innings, but he worked out of trouble the first two innings and then gave way to freshman Josh Pierce, an Avon native, with two on and none out in the eighth.
Having pitched his senior season at the Lake Erie Crushers’ ballpark as well as a tune-up game last week against Eastern Michigan, Pierce was comfortable on the mound. He got Jordan Adams to strike out looking, then induced Sam Russell to hit into an inning-ending double play.
Pierce got the first two outs of the ninth inning before giving way to closer Brian Clark, who’d allowed just one earned run all season. Clark got Tyler Hall to ground out to end the game.
Stephanie Storm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Kent State blog at www.ohio.com/flashes.