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By Allen Moff | Staff writer
Scott Stricklin is ready to slap the covers shut on last year's storybook season.
As tempting as it may be to continue rehashing his Kent State baseball team's Cinderella run to the 2012 College World Series, the Golden Flashes' eighth-year mentor knows that's not going to help his team achieve success in 2013.
"We certainly have a lot to look back on and be proud of, and we have a lot of kids back that were part of that team, but the biggest thing for us is trying to turn the page," said Stricklin, whose Flashes will conduct their first official practice of 2013 Saturday morning at the KSU Fieldhouse. "We always talk about when things go wrong we can't hit the rewind button and change it. Well, everything went right for us last year, but we still can't hit the rewind button. We still have to look forward.
"That's a challenge any time you have a championship team, you have to turn the page and try to get moving in the right direction to win another championship. So that's what we're focused on right now."
The Flashes have the majority of players returning from last year's squad, which earned a school-record 47 wins while capturing the Gary Regional and defeating Oregon in the Super Regional to advance to the College World Series for the first time in school history. They knocked off top-ranked Florida and wound up finishing fifth in Omaha.
However, Kent State will have to replace No. 1 starter David Starn, All-American shortstop Jimmy Rider and standout catcher David Lyon.
Filling Lyon's shoes is a chief concern heading into the preseason according to Strickland.
"I think the biggest thing we need to do is find out who our starting catcher's going to be," he said.
"We've got three candidates right now. Jason Bagoly is a senior, while Tommy Monot and Jason Revesz are both sophomores. That's the position we need to shore up the most. Losing David Lyon is certainly a big loss, but we feel like we've got some talented kids here that are gonna try to fill his shoes."
Stricklin has two other particular areas of emphasis heading into preseason practices.
"Second is shoring up our starting rotation," he said.
Junior right-hander Tyler Skulina, who went 11-3 with a 3.77 earned-run average as KSU's No. 3 starter a year ago, returns to anchor the rotation.
"It looks like Tyler Skulina will be our No. 1 starter," said Stricklin. "At No. 2 it looks like (junior) Taylor Williams, our junior college transfer, and at No. 3 right now is Casey Wilson. But those spots can still be won and lost."
Wilson, a senior right-hander, pitched out of the bullpen last year, and led the team with seven saves. The Flashes have tremendous depth in their bullpen, making Wilson's move into the starting rotation possible.
"The final thing is whose gonna anchor the back end of our bullpen," said Stricklin. "That's probably the area that we have the most depth in. Our bullpen is very experienced. We have a lot of guys back from last year's team and a couple more guys that stepped up and had really good (fall seasons) for us. I don't know if we're gonna have a (regular) closer; we may have three or four guys that all can do it, and we may mix and match those guys."
Stricklin, who signed a six-year contract extension worth $300,000 annually last September, knows his Flashes will need to few breaks in order to approach last year's success. But the tools to make magic happen once again in 2013 are certainly in place.
"We've got a lot of talent on this team, a lot of experience. We feel good, we feel confident," said Stricklin. "We've got a really tough early schedule. We have to play our first 17 games on the road, and that's always a challenge, especially when you play good teams. We'll learn a lot about ourselves in those first 17 games."
The Flashes open the season on Feb. 15 with games against Virginia Tech and UNC-Wilmington in North Carolina.
Lights are currently being installed for the first time at Olga A. Mural Field at Schoonover Stadium.
"The concrete sleeves that go 25-feet deep into the ground are being placed as we speak," Stricklin said on Tuesday. "They're going to wait to put the actual light poles in until early March, but our first home game is March 20 and they are supposed to be up and operational by then."
The first home game of the season, a non-league battle with Pittsburgh, is scheduled to start at 4 p.m.
"We may use the lights that day a little bit at the end, but we're gonna wait until we get a little further into April before we start scheduling some night games," said Stricklin.
MARCONI RETURNS TO KENT
Alex Marconi, a former star catcher for the Golden Flashes, has joined the KSU coaching staff after spending the past two seasons as head coach at Ball State. He will coach Kent State's infielders.
Marconi was a four-year letterwinner at Kent State, earning First Team All-MAC and All-Region honors in 1999 and 2000.