Hope grows for Kent State baseball team after series win over Northern Illinois

By Allen Moff | Staff Writer Published:

By Allen Moff | Staff Writer

Kent State baseball coach Scott Stricklin takes a look back at games played last weekend.

Friday's Result: Kent State 3, Northern Illinois 2

Saturday's Result: Northern Illinois 3, Kent State 0

Sunday's Result: Kent State 13, Northern Illinois 1

Record: 8-12, 2-1 MAC.

Stricklin's Assessment of the Weekend: "Overall, we played better and we're getting better as a team, we just had that hiccup on Saturday, where offensively we just couldn't do anything. We pitched well and played pretty good defensively, but we couldn't score. That was disappointing. But we still finished strong and played a really, really good game on Sunday to give us some momentum."

Starting Pitching

Junior Taylor Williams improved to 4-1 on the year with a 2.09 ERA by throwing seven strong innings on Friday and senior Casey Wilson (2-2) pitched into the eighth inning on Sunday. But junior Tyler Skulina (0-3) took the loss on Saturday, and is still seeking his first win of the season after going 11-3 a year ago.

"We had three great starts from our starting pitchers. All three guys threw well and gave us a chance to win, and that's certainly something we can use as a positive. Unfortunately, we didn't score any runs for Tyler Skulina on Saturday."

Skulina has struggled at times, but has also received little support from his offense or defense during several of his starts.

"Our guys want to win for him badly. He's one of our most popular players on the team. He's a great teammate. There's not a bigger cheerleader on our team when he's not in the game. He's stayed positive, he's a hard-worker. I know it's frustrating. He's deserved to win several times and hasn't gotten the win for whatever reason."

Relief Pitching

The Flashes relievers did not allow a run in 52⁄3 innings of work over the weekend, continuing their trend of steady improvement after a rough start to the season. Sophomore Brian Clark (Stow) led the group by earning the save in Friday's win, pitching two shutout innings.

"Brian Clark was good on Friday night. I thought the guys threw the ball well out of the bullpen on Saturday, they just didn't get some breaks they needed to get. (Sophomore) Spencer Bryant came in (Sunday) and we had a big lead, but he was very good. Overall the guys that came in out of the bullpen did a good job."

Offense

"It's a complete contrast from Saturday to Sunday. We looked like two completely different teams. We weren't very aggressive on Saturday. We swung at bad pitches, we had poor at-bats when we had chances to score runs. Sunday was the complete opposite. We were very aggressive, we had a lot of confidence in the batter's box and we had good at-bats. That's the most important thing for our guys to understand, that they have to be aggressive, but they also have to have quality at-bats. I'm glad we finished (strong), because that gives you a little bit of momentum moving forward.

"(Senior) George Roberts and (junior) Derek Toadvine had the most hits, (freshman) Zarley Zalewski had three RBI (Sunday) and (senior) Evan Campbell had some flu-like symptoms and played through it and had three RBI (Sunday). Overall, offensively, on Sunday everybody did well, and that's encouraging. We've established some depth -- we play 13 or 14 guys regularly in our lineup, and everybody at one point or another has contributed. It gives us a lot of options moving forward."

Roberts, the reigning MAC Player of the Year and a preseason All-American, continued his impressive comeback from early season wrist surgery. He suffered a broken hamate bone in just his third at-bat of the season, but returned to action on March 15 and is batting .346 on the year.

"He's swinging the bat well. He's still not 100 percent, he still has some soreness in his wrist, but he's a competitor and he's a really good hitter. Those things put together, even if you're only 80 or 90 percent you're still gonna be awfully good. It's encouraging to see him swinging the bat the way he is with the weather being cold like it is. It's tough on your hands to begin with, and when you're less than a month out of a wrist surgery, it's tough on him. We're looking forward to when the weather warms up and we'll get 100 percent of what he can do."

Defense

The Flashes' defense also continues to improve after struggling through the early portion of the 2013 campaign. Kent State made just two errors in three games against the Huskies.

"Overall, I thought we played pretty well defensively. We were fairly solid. We still haven't had our best defensive effort yet."

Schedule Update: Monday's game against Notre Dame was cancelled because of inclement weather, but the two teams are scheduled to meet today in Gary, Ind., at 5:35 p.m.

Next: Kent State is scheduled to play its first home games of the season against MAC rival Ball State on Friday at 4 p.m., Saturday at 1 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m.

Email: amoff@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9445

Twitter: @MoffRC

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