Golden Flashes go 11-1 against the MAC West Division in 2012 - the best interdivision record in program history.
KENT, Ohio – Sophomore right-handed starting pitcher Tyler Skulina (Strongsville, Ohio) dominated for eight-plus innings to earn his team-leading sixth pitching victory while the top of the batting order gave him plenty of support as the Kent State baseball team completed a Mid-American Conference interdivision weekend sweep in dominating fashion with a 7-1 triumph over West Division foe Western Michigan Sunday (April 29) at Olga A. Mural Field at Schoonover Stadium.
The Golden Flashes (27-17, 15-3 MAC) won their fifth conference series of the 2012 season in six tries with the sweep of the Broncos (17-23, 7-10 MAC). Kent State posted its third MAC series sweep of the season. The Flashes rumbled to a 16-5 win over the Broncos Friday (April 27) in the series opener of the three-game weekend set before blanking Western Michigan, 4-0, Saturday (April 28). Sunday's win marked Kent State's fifth straight MAC triumph. The Golden Flashes have won 19 of their last 26 games – including eight of their last 10. Kent State went 11-1 against the MAC West Division in 2012 – the best interdivision record in program history. The weekend series win allowed Kent State to maintain its hold on first place in the race for the conference's regular season championship and number one seed in the 2012 MAC Tournament, which will be held May 23-26 all All-Pro Freight Stadium in Avon, Ohio.
"We played really well this weekend," said eighth-year head coach Scott Stricklin. "All three of our starting pitchers had great stuff. Our bullpen was good when we needed them. We played great defensively. We executed when we needed to execute offensively. It's never perfect – that's what we're striving for. This weekend is about about as close to perfect as you can get, though."
Skulina baffled the Broncos over 8.1 innings – the deepest outing of his career – and carried a shutout into the ninth. He struck out six while giving up one earned run on six hits and a walk and improved to 6-2 on the season. Skulina did not allow a runner to advance past first base until Western Michigan junior first baseman Patrick Duncan hit a one-out RBI double to left field in the top of the ninth inning. Freshman right-handed reliever John Birkbeck (Canton, Ohio) came on to record the final two outs and help Kent State limit Western Michigan to just two runs over the final 24 innings of the three-game weekend set.
"My arm felt good and everything was in sync," said Skulina. "I was in the zone today. The key was just getting ahead in the count. Without that, hitters can sit on my fastball. If I get the first-pitch strike, they don't know what is coming. We're starting to come together as a team, and you couldn't ask for a better day or weekend."
While Skulina was masterfully on the mound, Kent State's offense continued to roll. The Golden Flashes collected 14 hits, marking the ninth time in 10 games Kent State has tallied 10 or more base knocks. The top of Kent State's batting order accounted for 11 of those 14 hits Sunday, with redshirt junior designated hitter Nick Hamilton (Avon Lake, Ohio) lead the way with a double, three singles, two RBIs and a run scored. Junior first baseman George Roberts (Summerhill, Pa.) tallied a double and two singles, drove in a run and scored three more. Senior catcher and 2012 Lowe's Senior CLASS Award finalist David Lyon (Emporium, Pa.) collected a double and a single and scored two runs. Senior shortstop Jimmy Rider (Venetia, Pa.) added two singles and a run scored. Freshman left fielder Alex Miklos (Grove City, Pa.) also contributed two base hits and an RBI to Kent State's cause.
"Rider, Lyon, Roberts and Hamilton were all great," said Stricklin. "They got on base and got some RBIs. We had great at-bats all the way through. We've got some tough outs in our lineup. It's got to be a little unnerving for opposing pitching staffs to face our guys, because we have a lot of good hitters.
Kent State landed the first punch in the bottom of the second courtesy of an unearned run. Roberts led off the frame with a base hit through the left side and moved to second on a single to center by Hamilton. Sophomore right fielder T.J. Sutton (Uniontown, Ohio) followed with a base knock to center. It appeared as though the single would simply load the bases, but Western Michigan freshman center fielder Jordan Tillman was unable to get a handle on the baseball, giving Roberts ample time to race to home plate for the game's first run.
The Flashes made it 3-0 with two runs in the fourth. Roberts once again got things rolling – this time with a double to left. Hamilton followed by smashing a base hit into center to drive in Roberts. Hamilton advanced 90 feet to second on the relay throw to the plate, then moved up third on a fly out to center. After freshman third baseman Sawyer Polen (Wooster, Ohio) was hit by a pitch to put runners on the corners for Kent State, Miklos capitalized with a base hit through the left side to plate Hamilton.
Kent State upped its advantage to five runs in the ensuing frame. Western Michigan opted to lift freshman right-handed starting pitcher Will Nimke in favor of sophomore righty Monty Porter, but Rider and Lyon welcomed Porter to the contest by legging out back-to-back infield singles. Roberts moved them both up 90 feet on a ground out to third by Roberts, and Hamilton followed with a single through the right side that scored Rider. Lyon then tagged up and scored Kent State's fifth run courtesy of a sacrifice fly to right by Sutton.
The Flashes tacked on their final two runs in the seventh. Porter gave way to sophomore right-handed reliever Patrick Borlik on the mound for Western Michigan, but Lyon led off the frame with a double down the right field line and scored on a base hit back up the middle by Roberts. Hamilton moved Roberts to third with a single up the middle, and Western Michigan conceded Kent State's seventh run on a 6-4-3 double play.
Western Michigan tallied its lone run in the top of the ninth when senior right fielder Jack Scanlon hit a leadoff base hit to right on scored one out later on Duncan's double.
Nimke was saddled with the pitching loss for the Broncos, falling to 2-3 on the season. He gave up three runs – two earned – on seven hits over four innings while striking out three.
Kent State takes a break from game action for the next four days for finals week but heads to Athens, Ohio, for a key MAC East Division showdown against second-place Ohio next weekend (May 4-6).