Chafin back to lead Kent State's charge
Left-hander rebounds strong from surgery, one of top pitchers in nation
By Stephanie Storm
April 21, 2011
KENT: Without ace pitcher Andrew Chafin last season, the Kent State baseball team won the MAC Tournament and advanced to play in an NCAA Regional.
Now that Chafin is back, expectations are very high for the Golden Flashes.
A season removed from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery, Chafin has been stellar. So have the Flashes, with a 23-12 overall record that includes a 9-3 showing in Mid-American Conference games.
The Flashes saw an 11-game winning streak end last weekend when they lost two out of three at Central Michigan in tough weather conditions.
Chafin has been a big part of the dominating start for Kent State. He has the second-best ERA in the country at 0.78, has given up more than one earned run just once in nine appearances (eight starts) — he gave up two runs March 18 at Houston.
He has reached double-digit strikeouts in four outings — 10 against Louisville, 13 against Eastern Michigan and Central Michigan and a team-high 15 against Toledo in a nine-inning shutout.
A slider that KSU pitching coach Mike Birkbeck calls ''devastating'' is the key to Chafin's success. His walk-to-strikeout ratio of 75-to-11 in 58 innings is outstanding.
''His slider really is remarkable because it's almost invisible at times,'' said Birkbeck, who played professionally for 14 seasons. ''The spin on that baby makes the ball look virtually all white.''
Chafin, a redshirt sophomore, was 4-1 with eight saves and a 1.26 ERA in 17 games while serving as the Flashes' closer in 2009. Although he wasn't able to finish his freshman season when he injured his elbow in a game against the University of Akron, he still earned All-American honors.
''It's remarkable what he's able to do,'' said left-hander Kyle Hallock, who played summer ball with Chafin in high school (they both grew up in the Sandusky area).
''His mound presence is something else. Before he even throws a pitch, you know he's gonna bring it. It's just the way he carries himself. I can't imagine standing in there and trying to get a piece of that [slider]. It's just so nasty.''
Hallock also is pitching well this season. He is 5-4 with a 2.33 ERA through nine games — a marked improvement over last season, when he went 8-5 with a 5.64 ERA in 19 games (15 starts).
Unlike the easy-going Chafin, Hallock is a self-admitted ''over-thinker'' who was known for being ''in his head'' too much until a serious sit-down with coach Scott Stricklin midseason last year forced him to face reality.
''I was sick of being an average college pitcher,'' Hallock said. ''My physical ability has always been there, but my mental approach had to change. What it came down to for me was, how good did I want to be?
''I had to stop thinking so much and letting my head get in the way. Between innings, things would pile up and fester as I just overanalyzed everything.''
After the talk with Stricklin forced him to adjust his mental approach, Hallock worked with Birkbeck on the mental aspect of ''turning the page'' from pitch to pitch.
''Kyle has learned to control situations and not let the situations control him,'' Birkbeck said. ''Sure, you need to evaluate how you're doing. But then you need to store it away, move on and not let it linger.''
The Flashes' starting staff of Chafin, Hallock, junior left-hander David Starn (Walsh Jesuit), junior right-hander Ryan Mace (Tallmadge) and senior right-hander Brennen Glass all are going deep into games and have helped the team put up the 19th-best ERA in the country at 2.78.
The Flashes' bullpen practically has to draw straws for the few available innings.
''That's not a bad thing,'' Birkbeck said. ''Because we're going to need the relievers down the road. And when we do, they'll be fresh and well rested.''