Kent State Golden Flashes baseball team carries on a tradition
By Terry Pluto
The Plain Dealer
June 2, 2010
KENT, Ohio — Some stories just feel good.
So it is with Kent State's baseball team, which is headed to the NCAA Tournament and a diamond date with UCLA in Los Angeles on Friday.
The Flashes in the NCAAs is not a shock. It seems the Golden Flashes do it every year. They have won either the Mid-American Conference regular-season title or the MAC Tournament in 10 of the past 11 seasons.
But this is a story about more than a good college baseball team. Consider the recent list released by the NCAA honoring the top 30 academic performances by baseball teams.
"We're right there," said coach Scott Stricklin. "It's alphabetical, and we're between Harvard and Lafayette, one of only six public schools on the list."
When Stricklin played for the Golden Flashes in the early 1990s, he graduated Magna Cum Laude. He played five seasons of minor-league baseball, advancing as high as Class AAA. His point to his players is you can indeed be a serious pro prospect, and also hit a home run with the books.
KSU's team had a 2.35 grade-point average when Stricklin was hired. The APR rating was about 900, under the 925 mark that the NCAA says is acceptable academic performance and showing that players are making progress toward graduation.
This school year, the GPA was 3.1. More importantly, the APR was 1,000 -- considered outstanding.
"If they miss a class, they have to call me," said Stricklin. "They don't like to call me about that. It's been a boring year off the field. They are going to class, doing their work -- and staying out of trouble. I love years like this."
KSU was not expected to still be in action. The Flashes have only three seniors. Their best pitcher is Andrew Chafin. According to Stricklin, he is projected as an eventual first-round draft pick. He missed the entire season following reconstructive elbow surgery. The Flashes also had six different players sign pro contracts from the 2009 team that was 43-17 and was 1-2 in the NCAA regionals.
"We were picked for second place at the start of the season, and that's where we ended up," said Stricklin. "Then we lost the first game of the MAC Tournament, and had to win five games in three days to get to the NCAAs. [Pitcher] Kyle Hallock pitched the last inning [of the semifinals], then pitched seven innings in the second game. He got two wins for us. It was amazing."
This team is so underrated that it had only one player on the All-MAC first team. That's Strongsville's Anthony Gallas, who is tied for the all-time KSU career home run record with 49. Stricklin said the senior with the 3.0 GPA "deserves to be drafted," but isn't sure whether big-league teams will see it the same way.
The Flashes have 28 of 35 players from Ohio. Six more are from Pennsylvania, and one from Florida. That's Jordan Lucas, the team's only junior-college player. He has a 3.5 GPA.
The point is that Stricklin has built a winner with area players and solid students.
He talks about David Starn, the lefty from Walsh Jesuit who was 7-2 with a 5.06 ERA: "He's our Jamie Moyer, puts the ball on the corners, changes speeds. Throws 83 mph, but wins games for us." Another 3.0 student, Starn was a second-team All-MAC selection.
Then there's Kyle McMillen, an Akron Hoban product who is a pre-medicine major in KSU's Honors School. The sophomore also hit .353. Medina Highland's Ben Klafczynski bats second and hits .367. If you want to feel old, consider that third baseman Travis Shaw is the son of Jeff Shaw, the former Tribe pitcher from the early 1990s.
KSU has a tremendous baseball tradition, featuring stars such as Thurman Munson, Gene Michael, Steve Stone and Rich Rollins who had long major-league careers. In the big leagues now are Matt Guerrier (Twins) and Andy Sonnanstine (Rays). Former KSU pitcher Dirk Hayhurst recently authored "The Bullpen Gospels," a book about his minor-league career that has received outstanding reviews.
"We have a lot of good things to sell," said Stricklin.
The Flashes are in the same NCAA bracket with UCLA, LSU and California-Irvine, all ranked in the Top 25.
"Baseball America called it the Bracket of Death," said Stricklin.
But right now, he's thrilled that his overachieving team is still alive.