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MAC Baseball Preview: Kent State Golden Flashes

The Flashes won the regular season MAC Championship last year, but coming off a disappointing postseason, new faces will try to take Kent State back to the NCAA tournament.

Sawyer Polen will be instrumental to the Flashes success in 2014.
Sawyer Polen will be instrumental to the Flashes success in 2014.

A year removed from Kent State's heroic College World Series run, the Flashes struggled out of the gate. A 1-9 start was not what the MAC Champs were looking for to start the season, but a 15-1 finish leapfrogged them into the postseason as regular season MAC Champions. Unfortunately the tournament did not go as planned as Kent State dropped two contests to the Ball State Cardinals, and were left out of the conference championship game.

A couple big hitting pieces the Flashes lose from their 2012 College World Series team are George Roberts, Evan Campbell, and Derek Toadvine. Roberts was the teams leading hitter the last two years hitting .368 and .354 respectively, and now is with the Hillsboro Hops, a short A Arizona Diamondbacks affiliate. Campbell hit .293 last year and led the team starting in 50 of the Flashes 59 games. Toadvine was an all around big player for the Flashes as he hit .293 and led the team in runs, hits, and stolen bases. Toadvine is currently playing short A for the Staten Island Yankees, an affiliate of the New York Yankees.

On the pitching side of things, the Flashes lose Taylor Williams and Tyler Skulina. Williams was the ace of the staff last year, leading the team in almost every statistical category. Williams was 8-0 last year and compiled a 2.03 era, while also carrying a team high 80 innings pitched on the year. Williams was drafted in the fourth round by the Milwaukee Brewers. Skulina has been a key the last two years for the Flashes. Skulina's numbers took a slight dip between 2012 and 2013, but his production as a starting picture will be greatly missed, and a significant hole to fill. Skulina also went in the fourth round of the draft to the Chicago Cubs.

Probably the biggest difference for the Flashes this year is new coach Jeff Duncan. Duncan was previously the associate coach at Purdue. College Sports Madness lists him as the MAC Preseason Coach of the Year. Coach Duncan isn't looking ahead towards awards or MAC play quite yet. "I ask two things of my guys every day; attitude and effort. We need to get better every day. Winning will be a result of that."

The Flashes return a lot of starters in the field. Coach Duncan expects Alex Miklos and Sawyer Pollen to be the main contributors at the plate. Tommy Monnet is a guy that played in the college world series and will be back catching again this year. Cody Koch and Zarley Zalewski, a Pittsburgh Pirates draft pick, will move into bigger roles and be more consistent contributors. Duncan expects freshman middle infielder Zach Beckner out of Lebanon, Ohio to have a big role as well.

Kent State lost two power pitching prospects but will return a lot of guys.  Brian Clark will start Friday at Arizona and Nick Jenson-Clagg will start Saturday. Both men had diminished innings last year, but will be key in 2014's starting rotation. "Brian Clark had been dominant so far" said Duncan. "His power stuff has been up around 95".

The Flashes also bring in highly touted pitching recruit Eric Lauer. Lauer was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays and was named the 14th freshman prospect by Baseball America. Another freshman pitcher that Duncan expects a lot out of is Andy Ravel. Ravel was drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks and was named MAC Preseason Freshman of the Year by College Sports Madness.

The Flashes will play 16 games on the road to start the year before taking on conference foe Toledo on March 21st. Kent State will play Arizona, Winthrop, Coppin State, Middle Tennessee State, Liberty, College of Charleston, Appalachian State, and Michigan before their first home game. Other notable non-conference games for Kent State include home contests against Penn State and Pitt.