Kent State Baseball Digs Deep To Complete Weekend Series Sweep Of Northern Illinois
Hamilton comes off the bench to deliver game-winning RBI single in the seventh and give Flashes early lead in MAC East Division race.
KENT, Ohio – Redshirt junior Nick Hamilton (Avon Lake, Ohio) came off the bench to deliver the game-winning RBI single in the seventh inning as the Kent State baseball team dug deep to complete its Mid-American Conference opening weekend sweep, downing West Division foe Northern Illinois, 5-3, in a Techno Sunday (March 25) thriller at Olga A. Mural Field at Schoonover Stadium.
The Golden Flashes (11-10, 3-0 MAC) have taken the early lead in the race for the MAC East crown thanks to their three victories over the Huskies (5-19, 0-3 MAC). Kent State bested Northern Illinois, 12-6, in its home opener Friday (March 23) and followed it up with a 6-1 triumph Saturday (March 24) and has now won nine straight contests over the Huskies. The Flashes completed their first conference sweep since a 2-0 series win at Bowling Green (May 13-14, 2011) last season.
Northern Illinois forced Kent State to come up with some late-game magic after erasing a 3-0 advantage for the Flashes by plating two runs in the top of the sixth and one more in the top of the seventh to even the score.
Kent State rallied back in the home half of the seventh, though. Junior first baseman George Roberts (Summerhill, Pa.) drove a one-out single up the middle to get things rolling. Sophomore designated hitter T.J. Sutton (Uniontown, Ohio) followed by reaching base on a catcher's interference call on Northern Illinois senior backstop Brett Frantini. Redshirt freshman right fielder Troy Summers (Minerva, Ohio) was then hit by a pitch by NIU redshirt senior right-handed starting pitcher Tony Manville to fill the bases with Flashes for Hamilton, who delivered a clutch pinch-hit RBI single up the middle to put Kent State back in front. Freshman third baseman Sawyer Polen (Wooster, Ohio) made it a two-run ballgame when he lifted a sacrifice fly to deep center to allow Sutton to tag up and score.
"We got the catcher's interference on a foul ball, which put runners on first and second and allowed us to do some things," said eighth-year head coach Scott Stricklin. "You've got to take advantage when you get opportunities. "Nick had the biggest at-bat of the game. We always tell our guys to be ready to come off the bench and get it done."
Junior center fielder Evan Campbell (Beloit, Ohio) helped Kent State grab the early lead by cracking his first triple of the season into right center, then scoring by way of an RBI ground out to second by senior shortstop Jimmy Rider (Venetia, Pa.) to give Kent State a 1-0 edge in the first.
The Flashes made it a three-run lead in the third. Rider led off by legging out an infield single to short, then advancing to second on a wild pitch. Roberts delivered an RBI single through the right side to plate Rider, then scored Kent State's third run when Sutton doubled him home.
Kent State sophomore right-handed starting pitcher Tyler Skulina (Strongsville, Ohio) cruised through the game's first five innings in his first home start for the Blue & Gold, sitting down 15 of the first 18 batters he faced while giving up just one single and two walks and was in line to get the victory heading into the sixth inning. Unfortunately for the transfer from Virginia, he ran into a jam in the sixth frame. Northern Illinois junior first baseman Jordan Huffman smacked a one-out double to left, then moved to third on a ground out by sophomore second baseman Jeff Zimmerman. Sophomore right fielder Alex Klonowski put runners on the corners for the Huskies when he was hit by a pitch. It appeared as though Skulina would work out of the jam when he forced senior left fielder Alex Beckmann to ground over to Kent State sophomore second baseman Derek Toadvine (Springfield, Ohio), but Toadvine was unable to get a handle on the ball and Huffman scored on the error. Senior third baseman Troy White made it a one-run game and chased Skulina from the contest when he cracked an RBI single to plate Klonowski.
Redshirt freshman righty Eric Dorsch was summoned from the bullpen and got the final out of the sixth, but the Huskies tied the game up in the ensuing frame when sophomore catcher Joe Battaglia smacked a leadoff single back up the middle and scored two outs later when Huffman singled to right.
Unfortunately for the Huskies, freshman southpaw Brian Clark (Munroe Falls, Ohio) entered the contest and got the final out of the seventh and Kent State's bats answered back in the home half.
"I was glad to get in there and have the opportunity to help my team out," said Hamilton. "It was a big situation with the game tied, and that's really what you want as a player, to have the chance to help your team out. I was glad I was able to come through."
Clark sat Northern Illinois down in order in the eighth, and junior right-hander Casey Wilson (Sagamore Hills, Ohio) picked up his third save of the 2012 campaign by doing the same in the ninth to seal the sweep for Kent State.
Clark picked up his first victory of his career to improve to 1-0 on the season. He fanned one and walked one in 1.1 innings of relief. Skulina struck out four and gave up two unearned runs on four hits and two walks in 5.2 frames.
Campbell, Rider and Roberts each posted multi-hit games with two hits apiece to remain tied for the team lead in that category with 10 apiece. Polen collected his third multi-hit game of the season with two singles.
Manville took the loss on the hill for the Huskies, dropping to 1-4 on the season after allowing five runs – four earned – on 11 hits and three walks in seven innings of work.
Huffman led Northern Illinois at the plate with a double and two singles, an RBI and a run scored.
Kent State is back in action Tuesday (March 27) at Olga A. Mural Field at Schoonover Stadium in a 3 p.m. non-conference midweek game against fellow MAC program Toledo. Admission is free. The Flashes will send redshirt sophomore southpaw Michael Clark (Akron, Ohio) to the mound for his first home start for Kent State.