Beasts Of The East: Kent State Baseball Claims Division Title By Completing MAC Weekend Series Sweep At Ohio
Rider becomes conference's new all-time hits leader as Golden Flashes pound out 13 runs on 20 hits.
ATHENS, Ohio – Senior shortstop Jimmy Rider (Venetia, Pa.) became the Mid-American Conference's new all-time hits king and helped the Kent State baseball team win the East Division title and complete a weekend series sweep of Ohio with a decisive 13-4 triumph Sunday (May 6) at Bob Wren Stadium.
The Golden Flashes (30-17, 18-3 MAC) won their sixth MAC series of the 2012 season in seven tries and earned their fifth straight conference series sweep and second straight thanks to their three victories over the Bobcats (23-24, 12-9 MAC). The Flashes weathered a lightning suspension that pushed their Friday (May 4) series opener into Saturday (May 5) to post a 4-1 win over Ohio, then followed it up with an 8-1 triumph in game two. Kent State has won 22 of its last 29 games – including 11 of their last 13 and six in a row. 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 at All-Pro Freight Stadium in Avon, Ohio. Kent State could clinch the MAC's regular season title with a win over rival Miami next Friday (May 11) coupled with a Toledo loss at Bowling Green. Kent State has won at least 30 games 25 times in the last 30 years – including 13 years in a row and all eight seasons under eighth-year head coach Scott Stricklin's watch.
"I don't think many people thought we'd win a championship this year and picked against us," said Stricklin. "It says a lot about our players to take the doubts personal and work hard. To be up six games in the conference with six conference games to play is unbelievable."
Rider collected his 319th hit with a single to right field in the top of the first inning to surpass Scott Simon (2003-04, 06-07) of Northern Illinois for the conference's career hits record. He finished the contest with a double and two singles to up his career total to 321 and helped Kent State pound out 13 runs on 20 hits, marking the second time this season the Flashes have tallied at least 20 hits. He was one of six Golden Flashes to record a multi-hit game. Junior center fielder Evan Campbell (Beloit, Ohio) posted a double and two singles to go along with an RBI and three runs scored for his team-leading 24th multi-hit game of the season. Senior catcher David Lyon (Emporium, Pa.) added two doubles and a single, drove in four runs and scored another. Junior first baseman George Roberts (Summerhill, Pa.) finished a triple shy of hitting for the cycle and drove in four runs. Freshman third baseman Sawyer Polen (Wooster, Ohio) tallied three base hits, added two RBIs and scored a run while sophomore right fielder T.J. Sutton (Uniontown, Ohio) collected two singles and scored a run. Polen finished the three-game sat batting a team-best .571 with a team-high eight hits.
"What Jimmy Rider has been able to accomplish is amazing," said Stricklin. "When you think of the thousands of players who have come through the MAC, for him to stand alone at the top is special. Today, everybody stepped up. We had a lot of good at-bats, one through nine."
Sophomore right-handed starting pitcher Tyler Skulina was dominant on the mound for a third straight weekend. He earned his team-high seventh pitching victory of the season, improving to 7-2 thanks to nine strikeouts over 6.1 innings. He surrendered two earned runs on six hits and a walk. Over his last three starts, Skulina has piled up a team-high 25 strikeouts against five walks.
"I'm proud of Tyler and our whole pitching staff," said Stricklin. "If we pitch and play defense like we did this weekend, we can go a long way."
Kent State put its first run on the scoreboard in the top of the first. Campbell led off the frame with a base hit to right, and Rider followed with his record-breaking hit to right. Lyon followed by coaxing a walk to load the bases. Roberts hit into a 4-6-3 double play, but Campbell was able to scamper home to make it 1-0.
After Lyon threw out Ohio senior center fielder Ethan Newton and Skulina posted two strikeouts to get out of the home half of the first, the Golden Flashes increased their lead to 2-0 in the ensuing frame. Freshman left fielder Alex Miklos (Grove City, Pa.) legged out a one-out base hit to short, then advanced second when Ohio junior right-handed starting pitcher Seth Streich's pickoff attempt to first base missed its mark. Polen drove Miklos home with a single down the left field line.
The Flashes tacked on three more to their lead in the top of the fifth. Polen got things rolling with a single to right, then moved up 90 feet on an infield base hit by sophomore second baseman Derek Toadvine (Springfield, Ohio). Campbell drove in Polen with Kent State's third straight base hit. Toadvine made it a four-run affair when he scampered home on a wild pitch. After Rider drew a walk, Lyon smacked a single to right to score Campbell and make it 5-0 in favor of the Golden Flashes.
The top of the seventh saw Kent State add four more runs. Campbell started it with a leadoff double down the right field line. Lyon received an intentional walk from Streich, setting the table for a three-run blast over the right field wall by Roberts – his team-leading sixth home run of the 2012 season. Sophomore left-handed relief pitcher Sean Kennedy entered the game to replace Streich, but fifth-year senior pinch hitter Joe Koch (Austintown, Ohio) responded with a base hit through the left side. Polen followed with a single to center to score Koch and make it 9-0.
The Bobcats got on the scoreboard with two runs in the bottom of the seventh, but Kent State made it an eight-run ballgame again in the top of the eighth as Rider hit a one-out double to right and scored when Lyon followed with a double to center.
Kent State tacked on its final three runs in the top of the ninth. Toadvine drew a one-out walk, and Rider followed one out later with a base hit to left. Lyon drove them both in with a double to left. Freshman Jeff Revesz (Grove City, Pa.) replaced Lyon on the base paths and scored on a double to right by Roberts to make it 13-4.
Kent State hosts rival Miami Friday (May 11) at Olga A. Mural Field at Schoonover Stadium. First pitch is scheduled for 3 p.m.