By Allen Moff | Staff Writer
A short memory will serve the Kent State softball team well heading into today's Mid-American Conference Tournament opener against Ohio.
The Golden Flashes had a chance to earn their second straight MAC East Division crown last weekend, but dropped a pair of games at home to Buffalo and wound up third in the East behind the Bulls (27-20, 11-5 MAC) and Akron (27-14, 12-6).
Fourth-seeded Kent State (24-18, 10-6) will now take on No. 5 seed Ohio (28-24, 12-8) in today's 11 a.m. opener at Firestone Stadium in Akron.
Despite the disappointing finish to the regular season, the Flashes still have the pieces in place to make a run at the tourney crown.
"We've got all the ingredients," said veteran KSU coach Karen Linder last week.
"We can definitely win (the MAC Tournament)."
Kent State's pitching staff ranks first in the conference (2.64 team ERA) and is headed by reigning MAC Pitcher of the Year Emma Johnson, who is 14-9 this season with a 2.16 ERA that ranks second in the conference. Freshman Ronnie Ladines (6-6) has also thrown well in MAC play, and ranks fifth in the league in ERA at 2.36.
Offensively, the Flashes feature a fast-rising star in freshman Maddie Grimm. The Pennsylvania native tied KSU's single-season record with 13 home runs and piled up 41 RBI while batting .293.
Grimm and junior left fielder Kim Kirkpatrick (.295, 11 doubles, 5 homers) will need to shoulder the load for a Kent State offense that's struggled in conference play, batting a league-low .237 as a team. The Flashes, who last won the MAC tourney in 2008, are 9-1 in MAC play when scoring three runs or more.
Kent State's regular season matchup with the Bobcats was rained out, but Ohio knocked the Flashes out of the MAC tourney a year ago with a 5-4 elimination-game victory. The Bobcats have dropped seven of their last 10 conference games.
The winner of today's Kent State-Ohio game will take on the Miami-Ball State winner on Thursday at 1:30 p.m., while the losers of those same two matchups will square off at 11 a.m. The Cardinals (32-17, 12-4) are the tourney's top seed.
Facebook: Allen Moff, Record-Courier