Late Surge Propels Kent State Baseball To Win Over Niagara
Hamilton's first career home run in the bottom of the seventh sparks rally.
KENT, Ohio – The Kent State baseball team overcame a two-run deficit in the top of the seventh inning by plating three runs in the home half and three more in the ensuing frame to surge to an 8-4 non-conference victory over Niagara Tuesday (April 24) at Olga A. Mural Field at Schoonover Stadium.
The Golden Flashes (24-16) have won 16 of their last 22 games and three straight thanks to the victory over the Purple Eagles (15-22).
"We made some miscues defensively, early in the game and it all happened back-to-back, but the bullpen guys did their job and got some clutch hits there at the end," said eighth-year head coach Scott Stricklin. "We finished today strong. The guys found a way to get it done."
Niagara took advantage of several defensive miscues by Kent State in the top of the second to score three unearned runs and take the early advantage.
The Golden Flashes immediately began chipping away at the deficit in the home half of the second. Redshirt junior third baseman Nick Hamilton (Avon Lake, Ohio) reached on a dropped fly ball by Niagara sophomore left fielder Joel Klock to get things started for Kent State. Hamilton moved to third one out later on a ground rule double to left center by freshman second baseman Sawyer Polen (Wooster, Ohio). Redshirt sophomore right fielder Troy Summers (Minerva, Ohio) coaxed a walk to load the bases for freshman catcher Jeff Revesz (Grove City, Pa.), who cashed in by sending a base hit back up the middle to plate Hamilton and Polen and make it a 3-2 contest.
Kent State freshman left-handed starting pitcher Tim Faix (Strongsville, Ohio), freshman right-handed relieve John Birkbeck (Canton, Ohio) and redshirt sophomore reliever Michael Clark (Akron, Ohio) combined to throw up four straight zeros on the scoreboard – highlighted by Clark bailing the Flashes out of a bases-loaded jam in the top of the sixth by striking out Niagara senior right fielder Adam Wagner to extinguish the threat.
"That was a tough situation for Michael to come into with the bases loaded," said Stricklin. "He threw a 3-2 breaking ball for a strike in a pressure situation.
The Purple Eagles capitalized on some two-out lightning in top of the seventh to extend their lead to 4-2 as senior center field Wynton Bernard drew a walk, stole second and third and then scored on a single to center by redshirt senior pinch hitter Jesse Harris.
The Golden Flashes saved their best for late in the contest, though. Junior center fielder Evan Campbell (Beloit, Ohio) sparked the rally with a leadoff base hit to right. Senior shortstop Jimmy Rider (Venetia, Pa.) followed with a single through the left side. Junior first baseman George Roberts (Summerhill, Pa.) allowed Campbell to move up 90 feet to third base by lifting a fly ball to center. Campbell tagged up and scored on a sacrifice fly to center by junior designated hitter Jason Bagoly (Austintown, Ohio). That set the table for Hamilton to deliver the knockout blow to Niagara by sending a two-run home run to right center – the first round tripper of his career – to give Kent State a 5-4 edge.
"Nick got one up into the wind tunnel and got it over the fence," said Stricklin.
Redshirt freshman righty Dan Kopcak (Streetsboro, Ohio) retired the side in the top of eighth – including two strikeouts – to preserve Kent State's one-run lead.
"That's the best Dan's been since he's been with us," said Stricklin. "He's a great story. He's a kid we didn't really know anything about. He didn't play baseball his freshman year of college. He came to a walk-on tryout off the street and has come in and fit in well with the team and taken a significant role in that bullpen."
The Golden Flashes responded at the plate in the bottom of the frame by tacking on three more insurance scores. Sophomore second baseman Derek Toadvine (Springfield, Ohio) placed a leadoff single into center, and sophomore pinch hitter T.J. Sutton (Uniontown, Ohio) doubled him home to make it a 6-4 game. Fifth-year senior Joe Koch (Austintown, Ohio) entered the game to pinch run for Sutton and swiped third. Koch scored on a single to left by senior catcher David Lyon (Emporium, Pa.). Lyon then stole second and scored Kent State's eighth run when Campbell doubled to right.
Redshirt freshman righty Eric Dorsch (Gibsonia, Pa.) shrugged off a one-out, pinch-hit double to right center by Niagara freshman Mark Meisner to shutout the Purple Eagles in the top of the ninth and nail down the victory for the Golden Flashes.
Hamilton led Kent State's bats with two hits, two RBIs and two runs scored. Rider collected two hits in the win and is now eight away from becoming Kent State's all-time leader with 306 base knocks to his credit to date in his career. Campbell added two hits to his cause and increased his team lead in multi-hit outings to 20 games.
Clark was credited with the mound victory for the Flashes, working 1.1 relief innings and fanning three to improve to 1-4 on the season Faix went a career-high 4.2 frames in the second start of his career.
Kent State travels to the Keystone State Wednesday (April 25) to square off with Penn State in the second game of the home-and-home season series between the programs. First pitch is scheduled for 6:05 p.m. The Nittany Lions won the first round at Olga A. Mural Field at Schoonover Stadium on April 3, 9-7.