The Kent State baseball team made a mockery of the grand old game's most tried, true and typically telling statistic Wednesday afternoon at Gene Michael Field.
The infamous hit.
Despite being outslugged decisively in both games, the Mid-American Conference East Division leading Golden Flashes managed to sweep an all-important doubleheader from West Division leader Central Michigan, 8-3 and 11-8, by repeatedly taking advantage of the same opportunities the Chippewas let slip through their fingers all day long.
"We've had enough games this year where we've outhit the opposition and still lost, so we'll take this," said Kent State coach Rick Rembielak, whose squad was outhit 28-19 on the day. "We got ourselves in a lot of crazy situations, but we were able to make the plays when we had to. We've found out that hits really don't matter. It's runs that count."
The Chippewas (11-15, 7-3 MAC) will attest to that.
In the opener, Central Michigan piled up eight hits in four innings against Kent State starter Dustin Sampson. But the Chippewas managed just one run, the same amount produced with one swing of the bat by Cary Zamilski when he led off the game with a home run to dead centerfield for the Flashes (14-14, 8-2).
"We couldn't have asked for a better outing from Dustin," said Rembielak. No. 1 starter Matt Guerrier was expected to pitch the opener, but he was suspended for two starts on Monday for academic reasons. "He was thrown into a tough situation for a freshman, and he handled it well. All we asked him to do was keep us in the game early so we could turn it over to our bullpen."
Reliever Dan Boozer (2-0) was the beneficiary of a four-run Flashes' outburst in the fifth inning.
Consecutive bunt singles by Les Brock and Sam Crea (2-for-3) loaded the bases with no one out for Zamilski, who plated the go-ahead run with a sacrifice fly to deep left. Another run scored on an error before senior Brian Smith (4-for-8 on the day) delivered a two-out, two-run single to put the Flashes up 5-1.
A two-run homer by CMU's Jake Sanborn off Dan Boozer cut the lead to 5-3, but Kent State added three more runs in sixth to put the game away. A bases loaded balk by the Chippewas' Lee Gardner (2.91 ERA) brought one run home and Jess Bechard then delivered a two-run single to give KSU a five-run cushion.
Dan's brother, Scott, pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings to earn the first of two saves on the day.
Central Michigan outhit Kent State 13-7 in game one but still lost after stranding 10 runners and allowing seven unearned runs. And game two was more of the same.
Flashes starter Doug Straight allowed seven hits but just three runs in the first three innings, while his offense touched up CMU starter Eric Kipling for five runs in the second. No. 8 hitter Alex Marconi emptied the sacks with a bases-loaded triple and Crea immediately followed by yanking his second home run of the year over the left-field wall.
Action was brought to a halt for over an hour after the third inning due to heavy rains and lightning with Kent State leading 5-3. The Chippewas quickly erased that deficit when play resumed with two runs in the fourth.
But Bechard then restored order by doing what he does best: ripping a double.
Bechard cracked his 20th two-bagger of the season in just 28 games, the second-highest average in the nation, to score Zamilski with what proved to be the game-winning run in the fifth. He's now just seven doubles away from the MAC record.
"This is new to me. I've never had this many extra-base hits," said Bechard, a sophomore from Massillon High School. "I'm just getting good pitches to hit because I've got great hitters in the lineup behind me."
Kent State held a slim 7-6 lead in the sixth, but used the bunt once again to break the game open.
After Charles Chatman's leadoff double, Marconi and Crea tapped consecutive bunts down the third-base line that each ended up in right field after consecutive errors by the pitcher and first baseman. Each error allowed a run to score during a four-run sixth that gave the Flashes a comfortable 11-6 lead.
"You never know what's going to happen when you lay down a good bunt," said Rembielak. "Those aren't normal plays for pitchers to make; they put a lot of pressure on a defense."
That CMU defense coughed up three more unearned runs, while the offense stranded seven more runners after outhitting the Flashes 15-12 in game two.
With the two wins, Kent State now owns a three-game lead in the East Division entering this weekend's four-game series at home against Bowling Green.
"We're very pleased to be 8-2," said Bechard. "We couldn't ask for anything better than that at this point."