Kent State Baseball Twirls A Series-Opening Shutout Win Over Miami To Clinch Share Of Conference Title
Starn, Wilson and Brian Clark combine to blank RedHawks as Golden Flashes post seventh straight win.
KENT, Ohio – The Kent State baseball team clinched a share of the 2012 Mid-American Conference regular season championship as senior southpaw ace David Starn (Hudson, Ohio), sophomore right-handed reliever Casey Wilson (Sagamore Hills, Ohio) and freshman left-handed closer Brian Clark (Munroe Falls, Ohio) combined to shut down East Division rival Miami, 3-0, Friday (May 11) at Olga A. Mural Field at Schoonover Stadium.
With the victory over the RedHawks (26-24, 10-12 MAC), the Golden Flashes (31-17, 19-3 MAC) have won 23 of their last 30 games – including 12 of their last 14 and seven in a row. Kent State can clinch the MAC regular season championship outright and number one seed in the 2012 MAC Tournament, which will be held May 23-26 at All Pro Freight Stadium in Avon, Ohio, with one more victory.
Starn, Wilson and Clark combined to limit the RedHawks to six hits and outduel Miami redshirt senior left-handed starting pitcher Shawn Marquardt and senior right-handed reliever Joe Neff.
"We were able to scrape by with a couple runs early in the game," said eighth-year head coach Scott Stricklin. "Both pitching staffs and defenses were great, and we were fortunate enough to get the win."
The Flashes have not allowed Miami to score a run in 19 consecutive innings dating back to the 2011 season. The RedHawks' last run scored against Kent State came in the eighth inning of a 3-2 victory on May 8 in the weekend series finale between the two teams at Schoonover Stadium. Kent State bounced back to post a dominating 11-0 rout of the RedHawks in the MAC Tournament Championship Game on May 28 at VA Memorial Stadium in Chillicothe, Ohio, clinching the program's 11th NCAA Championship berth and third in a row.
Starn delivered a four-hit shutout gem in seven innings of work in last year's title game and picked up right where he left off against Miami on Friday, scattering six hits and allowing one walk over seven frames of work while striking out nine to improve to 7-3 on the season and 25-7 for his career. The school's all-time strikeouts leader, Starn upped his career total to 316 and is now one mound triumph away from matching Pat Bangston (1984-87) for the most pitching victories in program history. He is currently tied with Mike Nartker (1992-95) for second place. Wilson tossed a perfect eighth inning and recorded the first out in the top of the ninth before giving way to Clark, who sealed the win.
"David's an All-American for a reason," said Stricklin. "He uses his fastball enough to keep hitters off-balance. Casey did his job and was back to midseason form. Brian doesn't act like a freshman. He just goes out there and throws strikes."
Marquardt was tagged with the pitching defeat for Miami and fell to 5-5 on the season despite settling down over his final three innings of work. He struck out six over seven innings but surrendered three runs – two earned – over the first four frames.
After Starn shrugged off a leadoff infield single by Miami senior second baseman Ryan Brenner in the top of the first inning, senior shortstop Jimmy Rider (Venetia, Pa.), the MAC's all-time hits king, put the Golden Flashes on the board in the home half by sending a one-out solo shot over the left field wall – his fourth home run of the 2012 season and 11th round tripper of his career.
"Jimmy hit it into the wind and really got into it, and that got us going," said Stricklin. "He's not the all-time hits leader for nothing."
Starn retired the side in order in the top of the second, and Kent State's offense responded by adding another run in the bottom half. Sophomore right fielder T.J. Sutton (Uniontown, Ohio) legged out a one-out infield single to get things started. He advanced to second on a ground out by freshman left fielder Alex Miklos (Grove City, Pa.), then scored when freshman third baseman Sawyer Polen (Wooster, Ohio) placed a two-out base hit into right center to up Kent State's edge to 2-0.
Sutton helped bail Starn out of a two-on, two-out jam in the top of the fourth inning by racing back to the wall to rob Miami sophomore third baseman Dan Walsh of an RBI hit.
"T.J. made the play of the game off of Walsh. "I thought the ball was over his head and was going to hit off the wall, but he caught it on a dead sprint to save two runs. That would have tied the game and completely changed everything, but instead, it gave us a lot of momentum. T.J. works really hard and has gotten a lot better defensively."
Kent State tacked on its third run in the home half. Miklos legged out a one-out bunt single and advanced to second on a passed ball, and Polen followed by drawing a walk to put two on for the Flashes. Sophomore second baseman Derek Toadvine (Springfield, Ohio) cashed in for Kent State with a single to center to score Miklos.
It was a pitcher's duel over the final five innings, but Kent State's arms were just a bit better.
Rider led Kent State's bats with two hits, increasing his career total to 323. Polen was the only other Kent State player to post a multi-hit day with a double and a single.
Brenner and freshman left fielder Matt Honchel led Miami's bats with two hits apiece.
Kent State goes for its seventh MAC series win in eight tries and looks to clinch its 11th conference regular season title and second straight Saturday (May 12) as it hosts Miami at 1 p.m. at Olga A. Mural Field at Schoonover Stadium. Junior righty Ryan Bores (Strongsville, Ohio) will start on the hill for the Golden Flashes. Kent State will recognize the 20-year anniversary of its 1992 MAC Championship squad prior to Saturday's game. Known as "The Team That Started It All," the '92 Golden Flashes ended a 28-year postseason drought by winning a school-record 45 games and posting a program-best 24-7 mark in conference play en route to earning a trip to the NCAA Championship Tallahassee Regional. Since the MAC title in 1992, Kent State has advanced to nine more NCAA regionals.
NOTE: The Golden Flashes honored their three spring 2012 graduates - student-assistant coach Kyle Smith, fifth-year senior outfielder Joe Koch (Austintown, Ohio) and senior catcher David Lyon (Emporium, Pa.) prior to Friday's weekend series opener.