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Kent State baseball coach Jeff Duncan takes a look back at last weekend's Mid-American Conference series at Northern Illinois.
Friday: Kent State 7, Northern Illinois 4 (10 inn). Saturday: Kent State 4, Northern Illinois 1. Sunday: Northern Illinois 8, Kent State 7.
Record: 19-12, 7-2 MAC.
Assessing the weekend: The Flashes won their third consecutive series to start the conference season after dropping three consecutive non-league games.
"Any time you take two of three on the road in the league it's good. However, we're not satisfied. We're still trying to sift through some things. At the end of the day we've got to be able to close things down. In the two-week struggle that we've had that's been an issue. Our offense did a good job responding from a 4-1 deficit (on Sunday), then we just could not hold a lead. We had the lead in the seventh and eighth innings and were tied in the ninth, and we ended up losing the game. Any time you walk an everyday player hitting .179 three times (Huskies No. 9 hitter Jason Gasser) and have eight walks in a game, you're giving a team like Northern Illinois a chance to beat you. I felt we beat ourselves on Sunday.
"From the positive side, after the week we had last week we won two games, which we needed. We've hit a tough stretch. We've blown some leads, which is not the norm here. Some guys have got to step up in our bullpen for us to be a championship team. I think they can."
The Flashes drew 20 walks and piled up 28 hits in three games, but only averaged six runs per contest.
"We got a lot of base runners, but we didn't quite get the timely hits. I thought we could have scored about 20 runs on Sunday. We left 17 guys on base. But I liked how we just kept coming back and scoring runs."
Junior Dylan Rosa hit two-run homers in both Kent State wins. He leads the team in home runs (8) and RBI (26) while hitting .291 on the year.
"His home runs were both basically game-winners. Runs were at a premium in that 4-1 game (Saturday) and the wind was howling in, and he went against traffic and still hit a home run. His at-bats were really good."
Junior Nick Kanavas, a transfer from Arizona, played right field while star senior Luke Burch (team-high .403 average) served as the designated hitter so he could rest a sore hamstring. Kanavas went 3-for-8 in the final two games of the series, raising his average to .333.
"Kanavas played good baseball, looked really good and produced for us. Other than that it was hit or miss with our offense."
With his status as a starter on somewhat shaky ground after five consecutive rough starts, junior Zach Willeman (5-3, 5.40 ERA) delivered seven dominant innings in Saturday's victory. He allowed just one run on four hits and two walks with seven strikeouts in seven innings of work.
"We had two really good starts by Eli Kraus (5-2, 3.18) and Willeman. Willeman had no-hit stuff on Saturday. He was calm and relaxed, confident. He just needs to relax and let his stuff work for him. He threw four pitches for a strike and was dominating. I think he proved to himself that he can be a starter. Now he has to be consistent."
Sophomore Joey Murray (4-0, 2.52) had his first rocky outing of the season, allowing four runs in just 2 1/3 innings on Sunday.
"Joey hit a bump. He wasn't very good. Murray wasn't getting his breaking ball over for a strike, and his fastball command wasn't near what it was in the previous starts. We just chalk it up as a bad start."
Duncan is in the process of shuffling a bullpen that's been struggling the past two weeks.
"We put (junior Robert) Zeigler on the back end, and I thought he did well for the first weekend. We've got to put a guy that can get swings and misses in the back end of our bullpen, and Ziegler can do that. He's been up to 95 (miles per hour). We have the depth on the mound, but we've got to do a better job of putting guys in places where they can succeed. I think Ziegler can be the guy hopefully that can close games down once he gets comfortable in that role. (Junior Zach) Spangler (5 saves, 4.70 ERA) has been a set-up guy for us and had a lot of success. (Freshman John) Matthews could be another good bullpen guy for us as the season progresses."
After committing five errors in Friday's series opener, the Flashes made just one error in the final two games.
"Friday was rough, then after that our defense was really good."
Coming Up: Kent State will visit Pittsburgh (15-17) tonight, then host MAC rival Toledo (13-23, 7-5) Friday through Sunday.