Golden Flashes are off to best start to MAC play in program history courtesy of three straight weekend sweeps.
KENT, Ohio – The Kent State baseball team remained perfect in conference play thanks to a 6-3 triumph over Mid-American Conference East Division foe Buffalo Sunday (April 8) to complete the weekend series sweep.
The Golden Flashes (18-13, 9-0 MAC) are off to their best start ever in MAC play in program history thanks to their third straight weekend conference series sweep to maintain their grip on first place. Kent State pulled out a 5-4 walk-off thriller Friday (April 6) and followed it up with a 6-3 come-from-behind win next the day over the Bulls (1-7, 7-18 MAC). The Flashes have won 10 of their last 13 games. Nine of Kent State's last 11 games have been decided by three runs or less with Kent State coming out victorious in six of those contests.
"It hasn't been pretty the whole way, but our guys have found ways to win," said eighth-year head coach Scott Stricklin. "We had a lot of wasted at-bats and opportunities again today, but we battled and our bullpen dominated."
Kent State's bats gave sophomore right-handed starting pitcher Tyler Skulina (Strongsville, Ohio) a cushion to work with by striking for three runs in the bottom of the second inning. Freshman third baseman Sawyer Polen (Wooster, Ohio) coaxed a one-out walk, went to second on a ground out back to the mound by freshman left fielder Alex Miklos (Grove City, Pa.) and scored on a single back up the middle by redshirt sophomore right fielder Troy Summers (Minerva, Ohio). Summers stole second, and sophomore second baseman Derek Toadvine (Springfield, Ohio) followed by drawing a walk. Junior center fielder Evan Campbell (Beloit, Ohio) plated Summers with an infield single to first, and senior shortstop Jimmy Rider (Venetia, Pa.) made it 3-0 when he drove in Toadvine with a single through the left side.
The Bulls responded by posting single runs in the third, fourth and fifth innings to knot the contest at three-all. Buffalo scored its first run in the third when junior second baseman Jon Mestas drew a leadoff walk, went to third on a double down the right field line by senior right fielder Dan Scahill and scored on an RBI ground out by junior catcher Tom Murphy. The Bulls pulled within one in the fourth when sophomore third baseman Mike Scarcello coaxed a free pass and scored on a base hit to right by junior left fielder Matt Pollock. Buffalo tied the game in the fifth when Scahill smacked a leadoff double to right center and scored two outs later on an infield single to short by sophomore shortstop Michael Burke.
Kent State's offense made sure Skulina got the pitching win, though, by quickly grabbing the lead back from Buffalo in the home half of the fifth. Senior catcher David Lyon (Emporium, Pa.) coaxed a leadoff walk and scored one out later on a double to left center by redshirt junior designated hitter Nick Hamilton (Avon Lake, Ohio) to put the Golden Flashes back in front, 4-3.
The Flashes tacked on another run in the sixth when sophomore right fielder T.J. Sutton (Uniontown, Ohio) sent his first collegiate home run of his career over the right field wall.
"It's not something I try to do when I go up, but I just got a good count," said Sutton of his first career dinger. "Right before I went up, my mom yelled, 'Do it for grandpa.' He was in the stands today and doesn't get to come often. I was happy I got to do it for him."
Kent State added one more insurance run in the eighth as Miklos laced his second career triple to left center and scored on safety squeeze play by Toadvine.
While Kent State's bats added runs to the scoreboard, its bullpen befuddled Buffalo's hitters as freshman right hander John Birkbeck (Canton, Ohio), redshirt sophomore southpaw Michael Clark (Akron, Ohio), redshirt freshman righty Josh Pierce (Avon, Ohio) and junior righty Casey Wilson (Sagamore Hills, Ohio) sealed the win by combining to retire Buffalo's final 12 batters in a row. Wilson picked up his fourth save of 2012.
"We have a lot of depth in our bullpen, and I'm really happy to see those guys throw the way that they've thrown," said Stricklin.
Skulina improved to 4-2 on the season, striking out five in five frames of work.
"I was glad we were able to get that run in there to get Skulina the win, because we he deserved it," said Stricklin. "He found a way to get himself through the fifth inning and gave us a chance to win."
Buffalo freshman left-handed starting pitcher Mike McGee was saddled with the mound defeat and fell to 0-2 on the season.
Kent State steps out of conference competition to play a home-and-home series with Youngstown State in non-conference midweek action, visiting the Penguins Tuesday (April 10) before playing host to Youngstown State the following day. First pitch for both contests is slated for 3 p.m.