Solid Start: Kent State Baseball Rides Starn’s Arm To Shutout Win Over No. 9 Georgia Tech
Left-handed ace fans nine to move into third place on school's all-time strikeout list.
ROCK HILL, S.C. -- Now that's how you start a season.
The Kent State baseball team rode the arm of senior ace southpaw David Starn (Hudson, Ohio) to blank No. 9 Georgia Tech to lift the lid off of the 2012 season in grand fashion in the opening game of the Rock Hill Coca-Cola Classic Friday (Feb. 17) at the Winthrop Ballpark.
"It's fun to watch as a coaching staff to see the players go out and compete and execute and do everything that we've asked them to do," said eighth-year head coach Scott Stricklin. "You can't ask for anything more than what they gave us today."
The Golden Flashes (1-0) earned their second victory over a top-10 team in their last four games dating back to last season courtesy of the triumph over Georgia Tech (0-1). Kent State downed then-No. 5 Texas, 7-5, in the second game of the 2011 NCAA Championship Austin Regional last June. The victory also marked the second time Kent State downed GT in as many seasons. The Flashes posted a 6-1 win over the then No. 19-Yellow Jackets on Feb. 20, 2011, at Russ Chandler Stadium in Atlanta.
"We hope we get to the point where it's not an upset when we win a game like this," said Stricklin. "Early in the season when you're inside practicing most of the time, it's tough to come down to the South and play quality teams and win. We've been able to be pretty consistent when we come down here, and some people might be surprised by the score, but I can say our team's not. We expected to come here and win."
Starn, a 2012 Louisville Slugger Third Team Pre-Season All-America selection, twirled eight shutout innings and tallied nine strikeouts while scattering just four hits and walking only two on 104 pitches. He upped his career strikeout total to 229, passing current Los Angeles Dodgers right-handed reliever Matt Guerrier (220; 1997-99) for sole possession of third place in school history and improved to 19-9 in his collegiate career with the win. The co-captain tossed his fourth career shutout and second in three starts and struck out six or more batters for the 18th time. Starn was on the hill for last year's win at Georgia Tech as well, tossing seven innings of four-hit ball and fanning six en route to earning the mound triumph.
"He picked his pitches, and they could never get comfortable on him," said Stricklin. "He's just picked up right where he left off. He's really good and really tough to hit and really competes. He's really deceptive and throws three pitches for strikes. He never throws what you're expecting as a hitter, so you can never sit on one particular pitch because he mixes things so well."
Junior first baseman George Roberts (Summerhill, Pa.) began the 2011 campaign mired in an 0-for-26 slump, but he certainly began the '12 campaign on the right foot, going 3-for-5 with a double, two RBIs and a run scored to power Kent State's bats. Roberts was the only player on either side to finish with multiple hits.
"We need George to be that type of hitter for us," said Stricklin. "We need him to hit in the middle of the order and drive in some runs. We need some guys to step up, and we're going to ask guys like George to do that as much as possible."
Designated as the road team for the neutral site contest against the Jackets, the Flashes grabbed the early lead in the top of the first inning. Junior center fielder Evan Campbell (Beloit, Ohio) reached on an error by GT senior first baseman Jake Davies. Senior catcher David Lyon (Emporium, Pa.) moved Campbell to second with a base hit to right center for the team's first hit of the season. That set the table for Roberts to drive in Campbell with an RBI single to center.
Starn struck out Georgia Tech sophomore center fielder Kyle Wren and junior second baseman Sam Dove en route to sitting down the side in the home half of the first.
Starn got plenty of help from his defense the entire game, and Lyon made the first big play in the bottom of the second. After sophomore designated hitter Daniel Palka was hit by a pitch and sophomore catcher Zane Evans singled to right to put runners on the corners with no outs to leadoff the second for Georgia Tech, Lyon fired a pickoff throw down to freshman third baseman Sawyer Polen (Wooster, Ohio) to knock Palka off the bases and keep GT out of scoring position.
The Flashes built off of the momentum of Lyon's savvy veteran defensive play by tacking on two more scores in the third. Campbell got things rolling with a single to center. After he moved to second on a groundout by senior shortstop Jimmy Rider (Venetia, Pa.), Campbell scored one out later thanks to a double to left by Roberts. Junior designated hitter Jason Bagoly (Austintown, Ohio) then plated Roberts with a two-bagger of his own to right center to make it 3-0 in favor of Kent State.
"We knew with David on the mound, it was going to be a tough matchup for them," said Stricklin. "If we scored some runs for him, we'd have a great chance to win. When you take on early lead and David's locked in like that and our defense plays as great as they did, you felt good about where we were."
After striking out the side in the fourth inning, Kent State's double play duo of Rider and sophomore second baseman Derek Toadvine (Springfield, Ohio) got Starn out of a one-out jam in the ensuing frame. Davies led off the fifth with a base hit to center for Georgia Tech, and sophomore shortstop Mott Hyde moved him to second with a single to left one out later. Starn was able to work out of it, though, by inducing a grounder to second by sophomore third baseman Chase Butler that Rider flipped to Toadvine to turn a 4-6-3 twin killing.
The Yellow Jackets threatened again in the sixth when Wren led off with a single to center, and junior left fielder Brandon Thomas followed by coaxing a walk to put two on with no outs for Georgia Tech. That's when Lyon made another big defensive play when he started a 2-6-5-6-5-1 rundown to pick Wren off at third. Starn then closed the book on the frame by getting Thomas out at third on a fielder's choice and forcing Palka to ground out to second.
Starn sat down the side in both the seventh and eighth innings while Kent State's offense gave him a hand by adding two more insurance scores -- one run each in the eighth and the ninth.
Bagoly was hit by a pitch with two outs in the eighth and advanced to second on a single to right center by redshirt sophomore right fielder Troy Summers (Minerva, Ohio). Freshman pinch runner Alex Miklos (Grove City, Pa.) replaced Bagoly on the base path and scampered home on an error by Hyde that allowed Polen to reach.
Kent State added its fifth run to the scoreboard in the ninth. Toadvine and Campbell led off with back-to-back walks, setting up an RBI base hit to left by Rider.
Junior right-handed reliever Casey Wilson (Sagamore Hills, Ohio) was called upon in the ninth to seal the win, and he did just that. Lyon made a spectacular play to wrangle a bunt attempt by Thomas and apply the tag for the first out. Wilson then struck out Dove swinging and forced Palka to line out to second to end the ballgame.
"David Lyon killed two rallies for them, then made a play on the bunt in the ninth that is a Major League play, as good of a play as you'll ever see," said Stricklin.
Junior right-handed starter Buck Farmer was saddled with the pitching defeat for Georgia Tech. He gave up three runs -- two of them earned -- on seven hits in six innings of work. He struck out nine in the loss.
Kent State will play two Saturday (Feb. 18), battling Georgia Tech again at noon, then facing off with host Winthrop at 5 p.m. The Flashes will send two right-handers out of Strongsville, Ohio, to the mound to make their first starts wearing the Blue & Gold. Junior Ryan Bores will oppose Georgia Tech sophomore righty Dusty Issacs while sophomore Tyler Skulina matches up against Winthrop junior right hander Eric Ruth.