Kent State Baseball Knocks Off New Mexico State In Weekend Series Opener
Campbell matches career high with five hits while Starn and Wilson provide solid pitching performances as Golden Flashes (6-4) top Aggies (9-7).
LAS CRUCES, N.M. – Five hits from junior center fielder Evan Campbell (Beloit, Ohio) coupled with a strong start by senior ace southpaw David Starn (Hudson, Ohio) and a solid finish by junior right-handed closer Casey Wilson (Sagamore Hills, Ohio) on the mound helped the Kent State baseball team knock off New Mexico State, 7-4, Friday (March 9) in the weekend series opener between the two teams at Presley Askew Field.
"I could see right from the start that our guys were ready to play," said eighth-year head coach Scott Stricklin. "We flew all the way across the country and didn't get to practice (Thursday), so it wasn't the most ideal situation to play in. We overcame it, though. Our guys answered the call and did a great job."
The Kent State (6-4) victory over New Mexico State (9-7) gave the Golden Flashes their first series-opening win since taking down then-No. 9 Georgia Tech, 5-0, on Feb. 17 in the 2012 season opener in the Rock Coca-Cola Classic in Rock Hill, S.C.
Campbell matched his career high for hits in a single game. He also collected five hits on May 14, 2011, to help push the Flashes to an 8-0 win at Bowling Green. Campbell posted his team-leading sixth multi-hit game of the season and upped his team lead to 21 hits.
"We made some strides offensively," said Stricklin. "We got some good hits and executed well at moving runners over. Evan is just hitting everything on the barrel, having good at-bats and stealing bases. He's doing a lot of good thing, and it's fun to watch him play from the leadoff spot."
Starn evened his season record at 2-2 and improved to 20-8 in his collegiate career, fanning five while surrendering two earned runs on two hits, four walks and two hit batsmen in six innings. The 2012 Louisville Third Team Pre-Season All-America selection increased his career strikeout total to 246 and is now 29 strikeouts away from passing Dirk Hayhurst (274; 2000-03) in the school's record book. He passed Lou Bocci (247.2; 1952-56) for sixth place in career innings pitched, upping his total to 248.
"David did a great job while battling some adverse conditions," said Stricklin. "The field was not in great condition and is far from a pitchers' park, but he kept them off balance and kept us in the game."
Wilson picked up his first save of the season and fourth of his career after striking out a career-high five batters over the final two innings.
Kent State landed the game's first punch in the third when Campbell led off the frame with a single to center. After stealing second one out later, he advanced 90 feet to third base on a wild pitch and then scampered home on another to give the Flashes a 1-0 edge.
The Aggies responded in the fifth by briefly grabbing the lead. Senior left fielder Andrew Lyon drew a walk, then moved up to second on a fielder's choice that put junior center fielder Kyle Phillips on. Both runners advanced another 90 feet on a passed ball, then scored by way of a base hit to center by senior first baseman Kurt Snowley to give New Mexico State a 2-1 lead.
The Aggies' advantage was short lived, though, as the Golden Flashes countered with two runs in the top of the sixth. Freshman second baseman Sawyer Polen (Wooster, Ohio) was hit by a pitch with one out, then moved to third thanks to a double to left by Campbell. Polen and Campbell both scored on a double to right center by senior shortstop Jimmy Rider (Venetia, Pa.) to put the Flashes back in front, 3-2.
After Starn finished his day by working around a walk to sit down the New Mexico State order in the home half, Kent State's bats tacked on two more scores in the seventh. Redshirt junior third baseman Nick Hamilton (Avon Lake, Ohio) smacked a leadoff single to center. Sophomore designated hitter T.J. Sutton (Uniontown, Ohio) entered the game and moved Hamilton to third with a base hit to left center. Hamilton then raced home on a wild pitch to make it 4-2. The advantaged swelled to three runs two outs later when Sutton scored Kent State's third run off of a wild pitch.
New Mexico State responded in the bottom half as Phillips and Snowley drew back-to-back walks and junior second baseman Parker Hipp loaded the bases with Aggies with a single. Redshirt freshman right-handed reliever Josh Pierce (Avon, Ohio) kept the damage to a minimum, though. He struck out senior shortstop Zach Voight for the first out. The Aggies got a run back on a sacrifice fly and then loaded the bases again after an error by Hamilton allowed junior third baseman Robert Lecount to reach safely, but Pierce extinguished the threat by striking out junior designated hitter Cody Edwards.
Wilson faced a similar situation when he came on to pitch in the eighth, entering the contest with the bases loaded and no outs. Senior right fielder Bryan Karraker led off with a single to right center, senior pinch hitter Tanner Waite followed with a double down the left field line and sophomore pinch hitter Tanner Rust drew a walk to load the bases for New Mexico State. The Aggies cut Kent State's lead to 5-4 with another sacrifice fly, but Wilson fanned Snowley and Voight to end the frame.
"Both Josh and Casey did a great job and are making us feel a lot better about the back end of our bullpen," said Stricklin. "Those two guys took a big step forward tonight."
The Flashes made the Aggies pay by tacking on two more insurance runs in the ninth. Redshirt sophomore right fielder Troy Summers (Minerva, Ohio) coaxed a leadoff walk, stole second and moved to third on a sacrifice ground out by fifth-year senior left fielder Joe Koch (Austintown, Ohio). Polen was plunked by a pitch for a second time to put runners on the corners, setting the table for a big RBI single by Campbell to drive in Summers, Polen scored Kent State's seventh run when he scampered home on a passed ball.
After giving up a leadoff walk to junior catcher Zac Fisher, Wilson shut the door on the Aggies by striking out Lecount and Edwards and getting Karraker to ground out to second to end the game.
New Mexico State junior lefty starter Ryan Beck was saddled with the mound defeat, falling to 2-1 on the year. He fanned a game-high eight batters but surrendered three earned runs on eight hits, three walks and two hit batsmen.
Kent State and New Mexico State will play two on Saturday (March 10), meeting at 5:05 p.m. ET (3:05 p.m. MT) with the second game following at approximately 9:05 p.m. ET (7:05 p.m. MT). Junior righty Ryan Bores (Strongsville, Ohio) goes for his third win of the season in the first game. Kent State's second game starter is to be announced.