Klafczynski’s Blast Helps No. 28 Kent State Baseball Clinch MAC Regular Season Crown With Win Over Akron At Fifth Annual Diamond Classic For Kids
AKRON, Ohio -- Senior right fielder Ben Klafczynski (Granger Township, Ohio) crushed a leadoff solo shot to right center field in the eighth inning to break a two-all tie to help the Kent State baseball team clinch its 11th Mid-American Conference regular season title – and first since 2008 – with a 4-3 victory over MAC East Division rival Akron today (May 19) in the Fifth Annual Diamond Classic For Kids at Canal Park.
"Ben was able to pick us up and get the big home run," said seventh-year head coach Scott Stricklin. "Guys were saying when he came into the dugout after hitting the home run 'Great job senior, great job captain,' and that's the ultimate compliment. He's one of the best players to play at Kent State, and it's very fitting that he was a crucial part of the win."
Ranked No. 28 in the nation according to the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper, the Golden Flashes (38-15, 20-4 MAC) clinched the No. 1 seed in the MAC Tournament, which is set to begin next Wednesday (May 25) at VA Memorial Stadium in Chillicothe, Ohio. Kent State will be shooting for its third straight MAC Tournament crown and NCAA Regional berth. Kent State has won 29 of its last 33 games and now holds a 3-2 series edge over the Zips (15-36, 6-19 MAC) in the Diamond Classic series. Gate proceeds from the Diamond Classic go to benefit Akron Children's Hospital. The Flashes reached the 20-win mark in MAC play for the first time under Stricklin and first time since 2003 and marks the seventh time in program history they have achieved the feat.
Klafczynski led the way at the plate with two hits, two RBIs and two runs scored. Junior right-handed closer Kyle McMillen (North Canton, Ohio) – the nation's leader in saves -- entered the contest in the top of the ninth and secured his MAC and team-record 16th of the season to nail down the championship. Senior right-handed reliever Justin Gill (Canton, Ohio) earned the mound triumph to improve to 3-2 in 2011. Junior right-handed starting pitcher Ryan Mace (Tallmadge, Ohio) struck out four over six frames.
"It's unbelievable," said McMillen. "I was getting a little bit choked up about it. It's all about playing for championships and playing against our rival. It was a great stage and a great game."
Kent State put up a two-spot in the bottom of the first to take the early advantage. Sophomore second baseman Evan Campbell (Beloit, Ohio) got things started with a leadoff double to left. After Campbell moved to third on a flyout to right by third baseman Travis Shaw (Washington Courthouse, Ohio), senior right fielder Klafczynski drove him home with a single to center. Junior catcher David Lyon (Emporium, Pa.) made it 2-0 in favor of the Flashes by knocking a triple down the right field line to plate Klafczynski.
The Zips answered by placing single tallies on the scoreboard in the second and fourth to tie the game, but Klafczynski's timely blast and Lyon reaching on and Akron fielding error and later scoring on an infield single by redshirt junior Joe Koch (Youngstown, Ohio) provided the winning margin for the Flashes.
"I came in from right field that inning knowing that we needed to score and that our bullpen would get it done if we could get some runs on the board," said Klafczynski. I just had to focus on finding a good pitch and making a good swing."
Kent State looks to secure its eighth MAC series win in nine tries this season Friday (May 20) as the series shifts to Olga A. Mural Field at Schoonover Stadium. Senior southpaw Kyle Hallock (Sandusky, Ohio) gets the starting nod for the Flashes and aims at his 10th pitching victory of the season. First pitch is scheduled for 3 p.m.