Kent State Baseball Captures 11th MAC Regular Season Title By Edging Miami In Instant Classic
Golden Flashes earn second straight outright conference regular season title and 11th regular season championship in program history.
KENT, Ohio – On a day in which the Kent State baseball program honored the 20-year anniversary of its 1992 Mid-American Conference championship squad – dubbed as 'The Team That Started It All' – it seemed only fitting that, just over three hours later, another chapter in the growing legacy of the Blue & Gold on the diamond was written.
Senior catcher and 2012 Lowe's Senior CLASS Award finalist David Lyon (Emporium, Pa.) crushed the go-ahead two-run home run in the bottom of the sixth inning to cap a four-run frame – his second round tripper of the day, sixth of the season and 20th of his career – and the bullpen held on to help the Golden Flashes complete a come-from-behind 7-6 triumph over East Division rival Miami and earn Kent State's second straight outright conference regular season title and 11th regular season championship in program history Saturday (May 12) at Olga A. Mural Field at Schoonover Stadium.
Kent State's most recent title was completed in wire-to-wire fashion, as the squad grabbed control of the conference from the opening weekend of MAC play in March and did not relinquish their grip all the way through May. With the victory over the RedHawks (26-25, 10-13 MAC), the Golden Flashes (32-17, 20-3 MAC) have won 24 of their last 31 games – including 13 of their last 15 and eight in a row – and have now won seven of their eight MAC series in 2012. Winning the MAC regular season title – the fourth such championship under eighth-year head coach Scott Stricklin - also clinched the number one seed in the 2012 MAC Tournament, which will be held May 23-26 at All Pro Freight Stadium in Avon, Ohio, for Kent State. The Golden Flashes have won at least 20 conference games for the second straight season and seventh time in program history.
"Both teams played well," said Stricklin. "It was a battle of the bullpen, and we were able to outlast them. We got a lot of clutch hits. The upperclassmen had great at-bats. It was a good team win. It was fun to see the 1992 team with their families and enjoy the day and win the championship in front of those guys. It's pretty special."
Miami forced Kent State to fight for every run and every out in a contest that goes down as an instant classic.
The RedHawks took a 5-3 edge into the home half of the sixth inning after breaking a three-all tie in the top of the frame with two runs. Junior catcher Nate Bowles laid down a bunt, forcing Kent State junior right-handed starting pitcher Ryan Bores (Strongsville, Ohio) to rush his attempt at throwing Bowles out at first. The toss missed its mark, allowing Bowles to reach on the error to leadoff the inning. After Miami senior center fielder Ryan Curl successfully moved Bowles up 90 feet to second base with a sacrifice bunt, Kent State called upon redshirt sophomore southpaw reliever Michael Clark (Akron, Ohio) out of its bullpen to replace Bores. Clark struck out Miami senior second baseman Ryan Brenner, but freshman left fielder Matt Honchel broke the tie with a double to left center to plate Bowles. Junior first baseman Kevin Bower gave the RedHawks a two-run edge with a single to left to bring around Honchel.
The Golden Flashes did not blink, though, and fired back with a four-run home half that put themselves back in the driver's seat and provided the winning margin with the help of some two-out lightning. Sophomore second baseman Derek Toadvine (Springfield, Ohio) got the rally going with a two-out base hit to center, setting the table for a junior center fielder Evan Campbell (Beloit, Ohio) to tie the game up at five-all with one swing of his bat, sending a two-run shot over the right field wall for his sixth round tripper of the season and ninth of his career. Campbell's homer chased Miami junior right-handed starting pitcher Mac Thoreson from the game as the RedHawks turned to junior righty Brooks Fiala out of the bullpen. Senior shortstop Jimmy Rider (Venetia, Pa.) – the MAC' all-time hits leader, followed with a bloop single to right, setting the stage for Lyon's tie-breaking blast over the right field wall.
Clark retired the RedHawks in order in the top of the seventh, but issued a leadoff walk to Bowles in the eighth and was lifted in favor of redshirt freshman righty Josh Pierce (Avon, Ohio), who got Curl to ground into a key 6-4-3 double play. The twin killing proved crucial, as Brenner followed by drawing a walk and Honchel legged out an infield single to put two on for the RedHawks with two outs. Freshman lefty Brian Clark (Munroe Falls, Ohio) was summoned from the Kent State 'pen to get the final out of the eighth, and he did just that, making Bower roll one to Rider, who stepped on second base to force Honchel out and get the Flashes out of the inning.
Miami kept the pressure on in the top of the ninth. Sophomore designated hitter John Crummy led off with a double to right center. After Crummy was lifted in favor of freshman pinch runner Ryan Elbe, sophomore third baseman Dan Walsh moved Elbe to third one out later by legging out an infield single. Clark struck out freshman shortstop Scott Slappey to put Kent State one out away from the championship, but Bowles prolonged the contest and allowed Elble to scored when he reached on a throwing error by Kent State freshman third baseman Sawyer Polen (Wooster, Ohio). The Flashes dipped into their bullpen one last time, calling up junior righty Casey Wilson (Sagamore Hills, Ohio) to close out the victory. Wilson answered the call, getting Curl to roll one to Toadvine, who flipped to Rider to force Bowles out at second and seal the win and the championship.
The RedHawks put a halt to a 19-inning scoreless streak against Kent State by landing the first punch of the game with two runs in the top of the first inning. Honchel hit a one-out base hit through the right side and scored when Bower doubled him home. Bower advanced to third on a single back up the middle by Crummy. Bower scored on an RBI fielder's choice that put Walsh on.
Kent State responded by placing single tallies on the board in both the first and second innings.
Rider hit a one-out single up the middle in the bottom of the first, moved to second on an infield single by Lyon and scored on a base hit through the left side by junior first baseman George Roberts (Summerhill, Pa.).
The Flashes knotted things up in the second when Polen coaxed a one-out walk,
moved up to second on a single to center by Toadvine and to third when Campbell was hit by a pitch and scored on an RBI ground out by Rider.
Miami grabbed the lead back in the top of the fourth as Curl legged out an infield hit and scored two outs later on a double to left center by Bower, but the Flashes knotted it up at three-all in the fifth when Lyon led off with a bomb over the right field wall.
Lyon led Kent State's offense with his two homers and a single – marking the second time in his career he finished a contest with two round trippers. He also achieved the feat on April 4, 2010, against Western Michigan in a 14-4 Kent State win. Campbell posted his team-leading 24th multi-hit game while Roberts and Toadvine also finished with two hits apiece.
Honchel led all hitters with a four-hit day. Bower tallied three hits and three RBIs, and Crummy and Walsh each posted two hits apiece.
Michael Clark earned the pitching win for Kent State, tossing 1.2 relief innings to improve to 2-4 on the season. Fiala was tagged with the pitching defeat for Miami, dropping to 2-7 in 2012.
Kent State shoots for its third straight MAC series sweep and sixth of the season when it hosts Miami Sunday (May 13). Sophomore righty Tyler Skulina (Strongsville, Ohio) gets the start on the bump and is scheduled to oppose Miami sophomore right hander Charles Zubrod . First pitch is slated for 1 p.m.