When it comes to Kent State’s 2022 baseball and softball seasons, the only thing that’s been more peculiar than the spring weather thus far are the results.
Right about this time of season, both Golden Flashes programs are typically jockeying for position at the top of the Mid-American Conference standings. The baseball team has suffered through just one losing season in MAC play since 1990, while the softball squad has finished below .500 against league foes just once since 2006.
But both teams will enter this weekend’s action with more losses than wins in MAC play.
Neither squad expected to encounter a “down” year in 2022, based on their respective rich traditions and the proven players both teams had returning. But not much has gone as planned for either club during the first two-plus months of the season.
Kent State baseball: 13-18 overall, 8-10 MAC
The 2022 season started on a typically solid note for the Flashes, who went 4-5 against stellar non-league competition before opening the MAC season with a split against defending champion Central Michigan. While the Chippewas have not lost another league game since March 11, Kent State has won just one MAC series.
Kent State plans to turn heads with improved pitching, defense
The Flashes dropped three of four games the following weekend at Ohio that were all high-scoring affairs due to windy conditions in Athens. They were feeling good once again after taking three of four games at Northern Illinois and going 1-2 at home against No. 25 UConn, but then had to dig out a pair of one-run wins to salvage a split against a Bowling Green team that is currently last in the MAC.
Kent State then headed to Toledo for a four-game set last weekend, and came from behind to win the first game 10-6. The Flashes proceeded to let leads slip away in the final three games of the series, losing each contest by one run.
Only three of KSU’s 10 MAC losses this season have come by more than two runs, continuing a trend from last year – when the Flashes went 4-10 in one-run games against league competition.
While defensive lapses proved costly against the Rockets last weekend, pitching has been Kent State’s main problem this spring. The numbers tell the story – the Flashes’ team ERA is 6.46. No pitcher with over four innings of work has an ERA under 4.26, and only two hurlers are under 5.00.
Starting pitchers were inconsistent in the early stages of the season, but left-handers Ben Cruikshank (junior), Eric Chalus (freshman) and Peyton Cariaco (freshman) each delivered quality starts last weekend against the Rockets. Senior lefty Collin Romel, who had struggled as a starter, tossed 5⅓ scoreless innings of relief to earn the win in game one at Toledo.
But then in the last three games, the bullpen faltered. Relievers went 0-3 with an ERA of 15.87, allowing 10 earned runs in 5⅔ innings with five walks and three hit batters.
Pitching depth, a strength at Kent State for decades, is now a weakness at the worst of times – when the MAC series consists of four games each weekend. Even with an offense that leads the MAC with a .293 team batting average and scores 6.6 runs per game, the Flashes have not been able to string together more than three consecutive wins all season due to repeated inconsistencies on the mound.
Fortunately for the Flashes, they still have time to make a move up the MAC standings.
The top four teams in the final regular-season standings qualify for the 2022 MAC Tournament, and Kent State currently rests in seventh place. The Flashes only trail third-place Toledo by 1.5 games and fourth-place Ohio by one game, but they would lose head-to-head tiebreakers to both teams.
Kent State has 20 conference games against five different teams left on the 2022 schedule, and only one of those foes (Ball State) currently sports a winning record in MAC play. Miami (15-21, 10-13) visits Schoonover Stadium this weekend.
Kent State Softball: 14-22 overall, 5-11 MAC
Pitching woes have also plagued the 2022 Flashes softball team, which has been shocking based on the success key members of the staff have enjoyed in the past.
Return of stars Scali, Brownfield fuels optimism for Kent State softball in 2022
Senior Andrea Scali was the MAC Pitcher of the Year in 2019, but suffered a season-ending knee injury in the first game of last season and hasn’t been the same pitcher thus far in 2022. Jessica LeBeau won 14 games to earn All- MAC second team honors as a freshman last season, but is 4-9 this fall right along with Scali.
The home run ball has tormented both hurlers. LeBeau has given up 14 round-trippers, one more than Scali. They haven’t received much defensive support either, giving up a combined 35 unearned runs. The Flashes defense ranks next-to-last in the MAC in both fielding percentage (.937) and errors (60).
Kent State has also been inconsistent offensively, ranking ninth in team batting average (.232) and runs (131). Brenna Brownfield’s inability to make much of an impact due to an injury has been difficult to overcome.
Brownfield was the 2019 MAC Player of the Year, and started the past two seasons strong. But the 2020 campaign was cut short due to COVID-19, then Brownfield suffered a season-ending knee injury midway through 2021. Brownfield re-injured the knee early this season, and is currently being used only as a pinch hitter since she struggles to run.
To sum it up, games where the Flashes pitch, hit and defend at a high level have been few and far between.
Kent State has finished among the top four in the regular season MAC standings for eight straight years, and has qualified for the MAC Tournament 16 straight years – both conference highs. The Flashes will need to scramble to keep those streaks alive.
Thirteen games remain on the 2022 conference schedule, and Kent State is currently 5½ games out of fourth place – with the top four teams qualifying for the MAC Tournament. The Flashes will play three games at last-place Toledo this weekend, and desperately need a sweep to keep their postseason hopes alive.