Like you, I was pretty surprised when Kent State defeated Oregon in Eugene to advance to the College World Series. And, also like you, I knew little to nothing about the Golden Flashes. (Side note: Does anyone know what the heck a Golden Flash is? Because I’d love to find out) Nonetheless, I did a little bit of digging on this Mid-American Conference program from northeast Ohio, and found a few interesting things. I’ll also throw in a few of my own personal observations after somewhat paying attention to their first two games in Omaha.
- These guys ain’t fast: I know not all teams can be blessed with world-class speed. But Kent State looks like they’re running around with 10-lb. weights in their back pockets. Balls that should have been tracked down in the gaps against Florida rolled to the wall for doubles. Golden Flashes hitters routinely stretched doubles into singles and triples into doubles. Their speed was a running joke in the press box all afternoon Monday. The Gamecocks have some tremendous gap hitters on the roster in Joey Pankake and Evan Marzilli. Even light-hitting Chase Vergason has been getting into the act as of late. If the Gamecocks can hit some balls into the gaps tomorrow night they should be able to score on Kent State’s defense. Dante Rosenburg has had a little trouble controlling the running game in his first two starts in Omaha. If Grayson Greiner isn’t able to start because of his lingering knee injury, Rosenburg should do just fine keeping the Golden Flashes from swiping bases.
- The pressure seemed to get to them: ”But Randall,” you may say, “they beat the top-seeded team in the entire tournament! The pressure didn’t faze them!” False. Kent State was extremely opportunistic in their scoring chances. Florida, as they’re prone to do, made miscues in bunches, and Kent State was able to jump all over them. But in the late innings, as Florida began to mount a comeback, the Golden Flashes were visibly rattled. They loaded the bases with Gators in the 9th and were bailed out by a called strike on a 3-1 count with 1 out that was four inches off the plate. A walk would have forced in the tying run. On the next pitch, Casey Turgeon was (correctly) called out on a check swing appeal to the first base umpire, then freshman Justin Shafer flew out to deep right field on the first pitch. The ball stayed in the ballpark thanks to cavernous dimensions and a strong wind blowing in, but at many ballparks across the country the Gators would have led by three runs heading to the bottom of the 9th. I’m not saying Kent State didn’t earn it. I’m just saying they were on very shaky ground at the end of the game.
- Stony Brook ain’t the only Cinderella in the field: A #3 seed in Regional play, Kent State swept through Purdue and Kentucky before winning a best-of-three Super Regional in Eugene, Oregon against the Ducks. The Regional was extremely intriguing. Purdue won the right to host, but construction on the team’s new ballpark wasn’t yet complete. So the games were played at a minor league ballpark in Gary, Indiana. In their first game against #2 seed Kentucky (who swept the Gamecocks in Lexington earlier this season), the Golden Flashes won on a walk-off triple in the 21st inning. Yep, you read that right. 21st inning. Designated the home team in Game 3 of the Super Regional against Oregon, the team scored another walk-off on a bloop double down the left field line that the left fielder lost in the sun and the shortstop was unable to make a diving catch on. This is the team’s first trip to the College World Series, and their road to Omaha has been filled with excitement, and you can bet there’s a sizable contingent that wants to see their magical run continue.
- These guys can really play: They’re 47-19 on the year. They were 24-3 in MAC conference play this season. They’re batting over .300 as a team on the season. Their first baseman, George Roberts, is hitting .362 on the season, won the MAC Player of the Year award, and he’s not even the biggest offensive threat on the team. Shortstop Jimmy Rider also boasts a .362 average, has a sparkling .429 on-base percentage, and has 29 doubles on the season. There’s a lot to like about this Golden Flashes team that’s making its fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance this season. They’re no pushover.
- Odds and ends: I found some other random stuff that doesn’t really fit neatly into a category, so I’m just throwing it all together in this one. Enjoy.
- Of the 27 players on the roster, 21 are from Ohio. The remaining six are from Pennsylvania.
- On April 15, they defeated Bowling Green 31-20.
- They had a 22-game winning streak this season that included the conference tournament, Regional play, and the first game of the Super Regional
- Their 21-inning win over Kentucky in Gary was the second-longest game in NCAA Tournament history.
- They’ve recorded 10 or more hits in 40 games this season.
- They have a 4-3 NCAA Tournament record against SEC schools.
- Jimmy Rider has the seventh most at-bats in NCAA history (1,053), leads active NCAA players in career doubles (78), and is second in hits (353) and runs scored (219).
- Kent State pitchers have walked 30 batters in their 44 innings pitched since the beginning of the Super Regional.
I don’t think the Gamecocks have a ton to worry about with this team. I think the pitching staff can be counted on to put runners on base, South Carolina’s bats will do enough to drive them in, and that we’re more talented at most, if not all, positions on the field. The Gamecocks can’t afford to take this team lightly, but in the last three seasons I can’t ever recall a time when Carolina took a team lightly. Expect South Carolina to advance to meet Arkansas on Thursday night in a game it must win to stay alive.