College World Series: Kent State's Moxie Not Enough

David Starn was laboring and pitching from behind all day - not unlike the rest of his team.

One game down, and we're still staring up at the mountain.

Well, one game doesn't mean much right? Except when you open the tournament in a group of SEC teams, play the weakest of those three teams, and all you can manage is just enough offense to not get completely embarrassed.

It was nice to have the game be competitive for a while, but in the end Kent State just couldn't string together the hits they needed on offense, nor could they keep the Razorbacks from doing so during their at-bats - it says a lot that the Flashes turned four double plays during the game and still went down by a 5-1 final score.

For the full rundown, keep on reading past the break.

Right out of the gates, it didn't look good. Arkansas' DJ Baxendale was mixing pitches, speeds and locations at will with some impressive late break on a number of his offerings, and the Flashes were clearly getting impatient - as evidenced by seeing three or fewer pitches in 10 of 16 at-bats through five innings, plus hitting one ball out of the infield (a fly out by their star shortstop, of course). Finally, in the top of the sixth, Baxendale tried for a fastball down and away, overthrew it up and in, and our good friend Jimmy "Easy" Rider pulled it into the left field bullpen.

Starn, on the other hand, was clearly struggling right from the get-go. He lives on his fastball away and a backdoor breaking ball, and he started early with not-quite-hitting the outside edge of the plate (though given what K-Zone was showing, the strike zone the ump was calling wasn't completely consistent - for Starn, or between Starn and Baxendale). He came real close to unravelling in the first inning, and a double play started by Rider kept Starn's pitch count at only 24 through the first. He settled down after that, but only until he started to get gassed around 75 to 80 pitches.

Arkansas' offense isn't phenomenal, but even a mediocre offense is able to capitalize when a finesse pitcher keeps missing over the middle. Center fielder Matt Vinson doubled home two runs after striking out in his first two at-bats to make it 5-1, and the struggle was done for Starn after allowing 12 base runners in 5.2 innings.

A little late inning drama came when a bases loaded swing and miss by Vinson hit him in the back foot, but the umpires missed it and allowed the runner from third to come home and make it a 6-1 score. KSU manager Scott Stricklin was absolutely livid over the call, but the fact that it was followed by a two-RBI single to make it an 8-1 final made that flub a moot point. The game came to a close with a ground ball that shot up off the pitcher's glove and still winds up as a double play - of course.

On to *shudder* Florida or South Carolina, time to start hoping and praying.

Extra Notes:

  • Flash alumnus Josh Cribbs apparently spent upwards of $10,000 to bus a bunch of KSU fans down for support - though he himself clearly didn't ride a bus (still, "Flash Mob"...pretty clever).
  • Talk was made about coaches advancing from small schools to big schools, and the fact that Stricklin appears to be a strong candidate for the opening at Michigan (among other schools). Have to keep an eye on that.
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