Golden Flashes open 86th season this weekend (Feb. 17-19) with four games at the Coca-Cola Classic in Rock Hill, S.C.
ROCK HILL COCA-COLA CLASSIC
Feb. 17-19, 2012
The Winthrop Ball Park
Rock Hill, S.C.
Game will be broadcast via Internet radio on KentStateSports.com
(Dan Scotchmer, play-by-play)
Follow on Twitter @FlashesBaseball
--Friday, Feb. 17 vs. No. 9 Georgia Tech • 2 p.m. PROBABLE PITCHING STARTERS
KENT STATE: #37 David Starn (Sr., LHP, Hudson, Ohio) 9-3, 2.18 ERA, 117 SO, 24 BB, 16 GS, 107.1 IP in 2011
GEORGIA TECH: #30 Buck Farmer (Jr., RHP, Conyers, Ga.) 11-3, 2.91 ERA, 106 SO, 31 BB, 16 GS, 108.1 IP in 2011
Saturday, Feb. 18 vs. No. 9 Georgia Tech • 12 p.m. PROBABLE PITCHING STARTERS
KENT STATE: #19 Ryan Bores (Jr., RHP, Strongsville, Ohio) Making first career start for Kent State.
GEORGIA TECH: #28 Dusty Issacs (So., RHP, Lebanon, Ohio) 1-1, 2.72 ERA, 40 SO, 13 BB, 1 GS, 36.1 IP in 2011
Saturday, Feb. 18 vs. Winthrop • 5 p.m. PROBABLE PITCHING STARTERS
KENT STATE: #31 Tyler Skulina (So., RHP, Strongsville, Ohio) Making first career start for Kent State.
WINTHROP: #25 Eric Ruth (Jr., RHP, Hatfield, Pa.) 6-1, 3.66 ERA, 35 SO, 14 BB, 0 GS, 46.2 IP in 2011
Sunday, Feb. 19 vs. Winthrop • 11 a.m. PROBABLE PITCHING STARTERS
KENT STATE: TBA
WINTHROP: #21 Preston Johnson (Fr., RHP, Lawrenceville, Ga.) Making first career start for Winthrop.
SCOUTING THE OPPOSITION
No. 9 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (42-21, 22-8 ACC, NCAA Atlanta Regional in 2011) Head Coach: Danny Hall - 18th Season All-Time Series: Georgia Tech leads, 11-4.
• Starn and Farmer waged quite a battle in the Sunday finale of the three-game set between the two squads last season on Feb. 20, 2011, in Atlanta. Farmer was strong through five innings, scattering four hits and fanning six and departed the contest with a 1-0 lead. Starn was equally masterful on the mound, though, tossing seven innings of four-hit ball and surrendering one earned run. After totaling just four runs on 10 hits in the first two games combined, Kent State's offense finally roared to life in the top of the sixth with a four-run frame to provide Starn with the run support needed to earn the victory.
• Perhaps no two programs mirror each other quite like Kent State and Georgia Tech. That's because Danny Hall coached the Golden Flashes for six seasons (1988-93), leading Kent State to back-to-back NCAA Regional berths in '92 and '93, ending a 28-year postseason drought for the Flashes. Hall recruited and mentored a young catcher named Scott Stricklin during his final three seasons as head coach at Kent State. Stricklin served on Hall's staff his assistant coach and recruiting coordinator for three seasons after a previous stint as a volunteer assistant, and the two helped guide the Yellow Jackets to a College World Series appearance in 2002. • Junior outfielder Brandon Thomas is a 2012 Baseball America Preseason All-America honoree. He batted .307 with 63 hits and 29 RBIs in 2011.
Winthrop Eagles (27-30, 15-12 Big South in 2011)
Head Coach: Tom Riginos - Second Season All-Time Series: Kent State leads, 16-12.
• Rock Hill, S.C., is a mainstay on the Kent State non-conference schedule. The Golden Flashes participated in the Johnny Gill Memorial Tournament against host Winthrop and Wagner, going a perfect 4-0 on the second of weekend of the season last year. • Sophomore outfielder TJ Olesczuk is Winthrop's top returning hitter. He batted at a .307 clip in 2011 with 23 RBIs.
"They know what we've lost, but they don't know what we have."
That's the mantra the 2012 Kent State baseball team has adopted as it prepares to embark on the program's 86th season of competition this weekend (Feb. 17-19) in Rock Hill, S.C., at the Coca-Cola Classic hosted by Winthrop.
The Golden Flashes have established themselves as Ohio's premier NCAA Division I baseball program and one of the top squads in the Midwest, earning four NCAA Regional berths in the past five years – including an unprecedented three straight Mid-American Conference Tournament crowns.
The latest chapter was perhaps the program's greatest success story to date. Kent State finished the 2011 season ranked No. 26 in the nation according to Collegiate Baseball newspaper and received votes in the publication's 2012 Fabulous 40 Pre-Season Poll after winning the MAC regular season and tournament championships and earning a berth in the 2011 NCAA Championship Austin Regional last season. After earning the program's first-ever national tournament regional No. 3 seed, Kent State tallied an 11-inning 4-2 win over Texas State and followed it with a 7-5 winner's bracket triumph over regional host and No. 5-ranked Texas to earn the school's second-ever berth in a regional final. The Flashes became the first squad to win three straight MAC Tournament crowns and first since 2005 to win the conference's regular season and tournament titles in the same season. Kent State's mark of 45-17 matched the 1992 squad for most victories in program history.
Gone from the roster are six all-conference performers who set the tone for Kent State's dominating '11 run. In their place are 18 players who will be donning the Blue & Gold for the first time this weekend – including 11 true freshmen. Still, the expectations of winning championships not only remain, but are very much embraced. Kent State was picked to "four-peat" by seven of the MAC's 12 head coaches in the annual preseason poll, and such media outlets as Baseball America, Collegiate Baseball Newspaper and College Baseball Daily have agreed with that assessment. The squad's five-man senior class will have the opportunity to cement their legacies as one of the greatest classes in both school and conference history with a fourth championship ring.
Here's a breakdown of the cast of characters who will represent Kent State on the diamond in 2012:
Continuity and steady hands in leadership are the keys to any successful organization, and the Kent State baseball program is no exception.
Eighth-year head coach Scott Stricklin is the reigning MAC Coach of the Year and has won 267 games, seven conference titles (four tournament, three regular season) and has mentored 22 MLB First-Year Player Draft selections and 22 all-conference selections. The former three-year letterwinner as a catcher for the Golden Flashes and 1995 graduate of Kent State has also represented his country and collegiate baseball, serving as an assistant coach for USA Baseball's 2011 Collegiate National Team.
Stricklin has had the luxury of keeping his coaching staff intact over his entire tenure as skipper of the Flashes. Associate head coach/pitching coach Mike Birkbeck is a program fixture and has developed 22 draft picks, 21 All-MAC, 11 All-MAC Tournament, 12 All-Region and seven All-American honorees. Assistant coach Scott Daeley has helped develop one of the MAC's most efficient offensive attacks and fundamentally sound defenses, with 11 position players garnering MLB Draft selection and two earning MAC Player of the Year laurels. Former All-MAC infielder Doug Sanders is back for a third year as a volunteer assistant with his alma mater while 2009 Cleveland Indians draft pick Kyle Smith returns to the Golden Flashes as a student assistant.
Stricklin was recently inked to a contract extension through the 2016-17 academic year while Birkbeck signed through 2014-15.
"A big part of our success has been keeping the coaching staff consistent and keeping everybody here and teaching the same concepts year after year," emphasized Stricklin. "Having everybody back from last year's staff and adding the knowledge and experience of Kyle is a great asset to our program."
On the surface, it would appear as though Kent State will have a difficult time duplicating the dominance of its unique 2011 all-lefty weekend starting rotation. Gone is 2011 MAC Pitcher of the Year and Louisville Slugger Third Team All-America honoree Kyle Hallock, as is Andrew Chafin, the 43rd overall pick in the 2011 MLB First Year Player Draft.
Take a closer look, though, and you'll find out why Kent State doesn't think it will miss a beat with its 2012 arsenal of arms.
Senior captain and staff ace David Starn (Hudson, Ohio) will serve as the anchor of the staff and has the chance to cement his legacy as perhaps the greatest pitcher in school history. A 2012 Louisville Slugger Third Team Pre-Season All-America selection, Starn garnered First Team American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA)/Rawlings NCAA Mideast Region, First Team All-Mid-American Conference and MAC Tournament MVP honors in 2011. He tied Andy Sonnanstine (2004) for the most strikeouts in a single season in school history with 117, which was tied for the 16th-most in the nation in 2011. Starn was the Sunday starter in an all-left-handed rotation that anchored a pitching staff that ranked sixth in the nation in team ERA with a 2.66 mark under the tutelage of Birkbeck. He went 2-0 in two starts in the 2011 MAC Tournament, striking out 15 and allowing just two earned runs on 10 hits in 14.1 innings en route to garnering MVP accolades. He also ranked 48th in the nation with a 2.18 ERA and will enter his senior campaign with the Flashes tied with current Los Angeles Dodgers relief pitcher Matt Guerrier (1997-99) for third in school history in career strikeouts with 220, thanks in large part to striking out 10 or more batters on four occasions last season – including matching his career-high of 11 strikeouts as the Flashes stormed past Miami, 11-0, in the 2011 MAC Tournament Championship Game.
Starn , who is third among active NCAA pitchers in career strikeouts with 220, is just 55 strikeouts away from becoming Kent State's all-time career leader and is nine pitching victories away from owning the school's top spot in that category.
"David is on line to become one of the greatest pitchers in Kent State history," offered Stricklin. "He's been our most consistent guy for the last three years. He's the mirror image of Jamie Moyer, and that's guy who has pitched a lot of years in the big leagues. I think David is a guy who is going to have a chance to pitch in the big leagues as well because he really knows how to pitch. He throws three pitches for strikes, and he's very deceptive."
Kent State has infused two right-handed newcomers out of Strongsville, Ohio, behind Starn in the rotation. Junior Ryan Bores comes to the Flashes by way of Cuyahoga Community College. He was drafted by the Texas Rangers in the 26th round of last year's draft and posseses a heavy, sinking fastball that tops out at 90-94 miles per hour. Sophomore Tyler Skulina sat out last season after transferring to Kent State from Virginia and was a 46th round pick out of Walsh Jesuit High School by the Oakland Athletics in 2010 after earning Louisville Slugger/Collegiate Baseball First Team High School All-American honors in 2009 and honorable mention accolades in 2010 as well as Division II First Team All-Ohio selection in 2009 and 2010. Bores is considered the MAC's sixth-best draft prospect heading into the season according to Baseball America while Skulina, who will be eligible for the '13 draft, is ranked second.
"We lost a lot of production from last year's rotation, but we feel very good about the guys that we have," noted Stricklin. "We feel like Tyler and Ryan are going to make immediate impacts."
Senior right-hander Ryan Mace (Tallmadge, Ohio), who has made 27 career starts and piled up 104 strikeouts, enjoyed his best season of his three-year tenure in 2011 after going 5-3 with a 2.67 ERA and a career-high 49 strikeouts. He is expected to see extensive work during midweek action again in 2012. Sophmore righties Dan Slavik (St. Clairsville, Ohio) and Spencer Bryant (Sandusky, Ohio) will also be in the mix for starts as they continue to progress.
One of Kent State's biggest question marks heading into the season will be how a young and relatively inexperienced bullpen grows and matures. Stricklin and Birkbeck are tasked with trying to replace two of the greatest relievers in school history in right handers Kyle McMillen and Justin Gill and will likely use a closer-by-committee system during non-conference action.
Junior righty Casey Wilson (Sagamore Hills, Ohio) is Kent State's most experienced returner in the pen, recorded a 1-0 record and a career-high three saves with a 4.66 ERA and a career-high 21 strikeouts in a career-high 36.2 innings in 2011. He put together the finest outing out of the bullpen of his career vs. Eastern Michigan in the second game of the MAC Tournament, tossing four scoreless frames of no-hit ball and allowing only a walk while recording two strikeouts in earning his third save of the season in a 5-4 victory for Kent State.
"Casey is a our most consistent and experienced guy out of the bullpen, and we expect him to take a step up in his role this year," said Stricklin. "He's a guy who is going to have the opportunity to throw a lot of innings."
Redshirt freshman Josh Pierce (Avon, Ohio) was an all-conference pick in high school and could compete for the role of closer as well, while redshirt freshmen righties Eric Dorsch (Gibsonia, Pa.) and Dan Kopcak (Streetsboro, Ohio) and freshmen right handers John Birkbeck (Canton, Ohio), Eli Martin (Dresden, Ohio) and Chuck Seacrist (Painesville, Ohio) and left handers Brian Clark (Munroe Falls, Ohio) and Tim Faix (Strongsville, Ohio) will battle for relief innings.
The steadying force for a talented, but inexperienced collection of arms is senior captain and starting catcher David Lyon (Emporium, Pa.). He put together a career season last year, posting a career-best .315 batting average, .384 on base percentage and .538 slugging percentage with a career-high 75 hits, 36 runs, seven triples (most on the team, second in the MAC; tied with Matt Rundels, 1991 for most in a single season in school history), nine home runs, 27 walks, 53 RBIs and 128 total bases (third on the team, fourth in the MAC). He also led Kent State with 404 putouts, the eighth most in a single season in school history. He earned 2011 ABCA/Rawlings NCAA Mideast Region Second Team and Second Team All-MAC honors for his efforts. Earned All-NCAA Championship Austin Regional honors after he produced perhaps the most memorable hit in Kent State history to help down then-No. 5 Texas, 7-5, on its home field as the Golden Flashes earned their first regional final berth since 2001. Trailing 2-1 with the bases loaded in the bottom of the sixth, Lyon sent a 1-2 pitch sailing over the left field wall and into the Kent State bullpen to give the Golden Flashes a 5-2 lead with his second career grand slam. Lyon was named to the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team under Stricklin, who served as an assistant coach for the squad and helped the USA win three of five games against Japan.
"You could argue David is our most valuable player and that he's the biggest clutch hitter in the history of our program with some of the hits that he has gotten," said Stricklin. "He plays with a chip on his shoulder, is a hard worker and a fierce competitor. Having David back to lead this pitching staff is huge, not only for our pitchers, but also our freshmen catchers. I think he's one of the best catchers in the country."
Lyon is backed up by freshman catcher Jeff Revesz (Grove City, Pa.), who was a Pennsylvania all-state selection.
The strength of Kent State's defense is up the middle with sophomore second baseman Derek Toadvine (Springfield, Ohio) and senior co-captain shortstop Jimmy Rider (Venetia, Pa.). Rider is 50 assists away from breaking the school's career record. He possesses gap-to-gap power and enjoyed a team-best 15-game hitting streak in 2011 in addition to his defensive prowess that has made him an All-MAC selection. Toadvine stole a team-high 16 bases with a team-best .941 stolen base percentage.
"I feel our middle infield is one of the best in the country," said Stricklin. "Jimmy is probably the most consistent defender I've ever seen at any level. He makes every single play, and our pitchers love having him back there because of that. Derek is so athletic that he makes a lot of plays look routine that would have to be spectacular if they were made by anybody else. Those two guys work really well together and turn a lot of double plays, and that's a product of them hanging out together and having that great chemistry. I wouldn't trade our middle infield for anybody."
Junior George Roberts (Summerhill, Pa.) will start at first base for Kent State for a second straight season after tallying a career-high 34 hits and 19 RBIs in 2011. Sophomore Cody Koch (Sandusky, Ohio) is one of Kent State's most sound players defensively and will also be in the mix at first. Junior Jason Bagoly (Austintown, Ohio) will primarily serve as the team's designated hitter but could also earn a few starts at first as well. Freshman Tommy Monnot (Canton, Ohio) will also vie for playing time at first.
"George finished the season strong and swung the bat really well for us after a slow start," said Stricklin. "Cody is a great defender who we're looking to see swing the bat a little bit better in his second season. You'll see Jason serve as our designated hitter. We need his bat in our lineup, and we need him to hit."
Kent State will try to replace the void at third base left by Travis Shaw, who was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the ninth round of last year's draft. Redshirt junior Nick Hamilton (Avon Lake, Ohio) and freshman Sawyer Polen (Wooster, Ohio) will battle for the starting job throughout non-conference action. Hamilton sparked Kent State's 8-0 victory over Eastern Michigan in the MAC Tournament Semifinals when he was called upon to pinch hit with the two squads locked in a scoreless tie in the bottom of the seventh inning and was hit by a pitch. He then scampered around third following a base hit by Joe Koch (Austintown, Ohio) and tripped, but maintained his balance enough to recover and race home to give Kent State the lead. Polen competed for Triway High School in Wooster, Ohio, earning First Team All-Ohio and Pac 7 Player of the Year and first team all-conference honors as a senior in 2011.
"Both of those guys have worked very hard and will get their opportunities, and both of those guys can play all the positions on the infield," noted Stricklin.
Kent State's outfield will have to replace Ben Klafczynski, who was selected by the Chicago Cubs in the 20th round of last year's draft. Despite the loss of Klafczynski, two-thirds of the starting unit is back for 2012. Koch patrols left field and is now a senior captain after enjoying a breakout season while stepping into a starting role for the first time in 2011. Sophomore center fielder Evan Campbell (Beloit, Ohio) is an All-MAC caliber player who ranked fourth on the team in 2011 with a .302 batting average and tallied a career-high 74 hits and 39 RBIs. Four others will fight for playing time in right field, including redshirt sophomore Troy Summers (Minerva, Ohio), sophomore T.J. Sutton (Canton, Ohio) and freshmen Alex Miklos (Grove City, Pa.) and Jacob Neuschaefer (Elyria, Ohio). Summers is one of the most athletic players on Kent State's roster while Sutton started 42 of the 55 games he played in as a freshman last year. Miklos earned Second Team All-State and Region 7 Player of the Year honors as a high school senior in 2011, and Neuschaefer is a former First Team All-Northeast Ohio honoree.
"All six of those guys have played well," said Stricklin. "They're all athletes and all run pretty well. It's been a good competition for time out there. We may be able to flip flop some lineups right and left handed with those guys, and we feel very comfortable with what each can do offensively and defensively."