A sweep of the Toledo Rockets this weekend put the Kent State baseball team right back where they want to be: In the thick of the Mid-American Conference East race.
Outscoring the Rockets 27-11 in the series, the Flashes combined solid starting pitching and quality plate appearances to earn the sweep.
“We had a lot of guys contribute, had a lot of guys play this weekend,” coach Scott Stricklin said. “If you go right down the line, I think you can say just about everybody did what they were supposed to do. We played as close to perfect as we’ve played all season this weekend.”
The offense produced 15 runs Friday, many of which were a result of a five-hit outing by sophomore outfielder Anthony Gallas. His impressive performance featured a solo-homerun along with five RBIs.
Gallas and fellow sophomore outfielder Jared Bartholomew each hit a solo-homerun in the first four innings, helping to put the Flashes in front 4-0. The fifth and sixth innings followed with three-run efforts to essentially put the game out of reach.
Junior infielder Greg Rohan hit a two-run homerun in the fifth, and in the sixth freshman outfielder Ben Klafczynski hit another two-run homerun to finish the scoring in the sixth.
Sophomore starting pitcher Brad Stillings took advantage of the run support by pitching six scoreless innings. Earning his first win of the season, Stillings pitched a total of seven innings allowing two runs and striking out six.
Gallas finished off his outstanding day at the plate with another RBI in the eighth, capping a 15-4 win.
“We tried to talk to our team about it’s not how you start it’s how you finish,” Stricklin said. “We played well this weekend. We had some guys, offensively, who swung the bats very well.
“Overall we had a lot of guys that executed and moved runners over when they had to,” he added.
A solid effort from junior starter Chris Carpenter allowed Kent State to win again Saturday, scoring its lowest run total since April 5 in a 5-2 victory. Carpenter went 6 plus innings, allowing two runs, one earned, and striking out eight. He is now 2-2 this season.
Familiar suspects produced at the plate again in Gallas and Klafczynski. Gallas scored two runs while going 2-3. Klafczynski hit his second homerun in as many days with a solo shot in the third inning.
The Flashes scored single runs in the second, third, fourth, fifth and seventh innings. Toledo was held to single runs in the fifth and seventh.
Senior reliever Reid Lamport came to the mound in the seventh and pitched the final 2.2 innings, earning his third save of the season.
Saturday’s win took the Flashes back to the .500 mark overall for the first time since Feb. 23, when they split a double-header to start the season.
“Guys did a much better job at doing their individual jobs,” Stricklin said. “When you do your job individually it takes care of the team.”
On Sunday, the Flashes did something they hadn’t done all season: Climb above the .500 mark for their overall record. Winning 7-5, Kent State moved to 16-15 (4-5).
Wasting no time, junior infielder Chris Tremblay led off the first inning with a double. Senior infielder Doug Sanders then stepped to the plate and hit a two-run homerun to left field. Four total runs were scored in the first.
Leading 4-1, the Flashes added two more in the second. With the bases loaded, both sophomore outfielder Jared Humphreys and Bartholomew were hit by pitches, increasing the lead to 6-1.
Sophomore starter Kyle Smith added another win to his record, now leading the team with five. Pitching well in to the sixth inning, Smith (5-1) allowed four runs and struck out eight.
Sophomore reliever Jon Pokorny came in for Smith after Toledo cut the deficit to three with a two-run homerun by Josh Colliver. Pokorny earned his fourth save of the season.
“It comes down to our starting pitching,” Stricklin said. “We had three quality starts. That’s something, as a group collectively, we hadn’t done up until this point. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that we got a weekend sweep with all three of our starting pitchers having quality starts.”
The Flashes now are in third place in the MAC East, and are riding a season-high six-game winning streak. Starting pitching has come around and is producing the type of appearances many expected at the start of the year. The bats are following the same trend, averaging 11.5 runs per game over the last six games.
After a game at Cleveland State Tuesday, the Flashes continue their MAC schedule with a game at Akron Wednesday, and then a weekend series at Bowling Green.
“Any time you’re playing a team that’s ahead of you in the standings, you need to do well,” Stricklin said. “We’ve had some success against them the last two years. We beat them the last six times we’ve played them. They’re going to remember that.”
With similar performances this week, Kent State could potentially find itself in the MAC East lead with a sweep of Bowling Green and some help. The Flashes trail the Falcons and Ohio in the division.
Kent State 15 – Toledo 4
Kent State 5 – Toledo 2
Kent State 7 – Toledo 5
*The Flashes climbed over the .500 mark with the sweep, improving to 16-15 overall and 4-5 in the MAC.