By Allen Moff | Staff Writer
Eric Lauer seems to have mastered the art of "grinding" at an extremely early age.
The Kent State baseball team's prized freshman left-hander managed to pitch into the sixth inning of Friday's 2014 Mid-American Conference season opener against Toledo, despite never really finding his groove. He wound up tossing 51⁄3 shutout innings, while leading the Golden Flashes (10-9, 1-1) to a 4-1 victory in Game 1 at Schoonover Stadium.
"Eric Lauer has had better starts, but he battled through it," said KSU first-year coach Jeff Duncan.
The Rockets (8-11, 1-1) rallied with three runs in the final three innings to claim the nightcap 5-4.
Lauer improved to 5-1 on the year and lowered his ERA to 2.10 by scattering two hits and three walks, while striking out seven on a day when a typical freshman pitcher would have struggled immensely.
"Today I felt like I was changing a lot of stuff, didn't feel like I was consistent at all," said Lauer. "If you're a pitcher, you're not gonna have your best day every day; you're gonna have (sub-par) outings. You can't get caught up in it, you've gotta be able to grind through it. You've just gotta keep pitching and making another pitch. That's all it is."
Lauer arrived on campus last fall as a highly touted recruit. The Elyria native and Midview High School product was named the 14th best freshman in the country during a preseason ranking by Baseball America -- and Lauer has certainly lived up to that billing thus far.
"I've had to really work at it, but everything's been working the same as it always has (at the college level)," said Lauer. "The defense is helping a lot more, and the offense is getting rolling. As long as I can trust everyone else, it's not all about me. I don't have to strike everybody out, I know that."
Kent State scored a pair of runs in the first and third innings to take control of the opener. Senior first baseman Cody Koch had an RBI single in the first and a two-run double in the third.
Koch went 3-for-3 in the five slot, while the three hitters above him -- junior centerfielder Alex Miklos, sophomore third baseman Justin Wagler and sophomore designated hitter Zarley Zalewski -- all had two hits each.
Koch erased a 2-0 deficit in game two with a two-run homer in the fourth, then junior catcher Tommy Monnot delivered a two-run double in the sixth to give KSU a 4-2 lead. But a chance to open MAC play with a first-day sweep eventually slipped away from the Flashes.
Toledo scored its first run in the seventh when Kent State failed to turn a double play on a ground ball to freshman second baseman Zach Beckner. Deion Tansel then tied the game with a two-out RBI single.
"I think the turning point (in game two) was when we had that double-play ball to Zach Beckner, and we weren't able to execute that double play. I think that cost us two runs," said Duncan. "Zach's a great player, and he's going through some learning stages as a freshman. We just need to (turn) that double play."
Toledo scored the winning run off Flashes junior closer Eric Dorsch in the ninth with the aid of a bizarre play. After a one-out single, Toledo started the runner on a 2-0 count and Nate Langhals hit a ground ball up the middle that Kent State junior shortstop Sawyer Polen gloved. Polen tried to beat the runner to the second base bag, but was instead taken out, and both runners were safe.
Dorsch (0-1) hit the next batter, then gave up a sacrifice fly to Tansel that plated the game-winning run.
"It was just one of those unfortunate things," said Duncan. "A ground ball to Sawyer Polen. It was right around the second-base bag and the runner at first slid right into (second) right at the same time, and (Polen) just kind of tripped over the guy running into second base. It was just one of those unordinary plays, a bad break.
"We had opportunities to win that game. We didn't play well enough all together."
Zalewski went 5-for-8 on the day, raising his average to .467 for the year, while Koch was 5-for-6 with five RBI.
The two teams will meet today in the rubber match, with the first pitch set for 1 p.m.
Facebook: Allen Moff, Record-Courier