How important is one pitch?
There are hundreds of thousands of pitches thrown during any given baseball season. And for the Kent State Golden Flashes, most of those pitches have yielded positive results.
The Flashes, you see, have won either the regular season MAC title and/or the MAC conference tournament championship in fourteen of the last fifteen years. But for second-year head coach Jeff Duncan, you break down this well-oiled machine one bolt at a time.
"Our biggest goal here, as a program, is to win one pitch at a time," Duncan told me. "There's an unbelievable expectation here that was set a long time ago as far as tradition wise ... but how we get to that expectation is the way we want to play on a daily basis. That starts with winning that first pitch with Winthrop."
Those expectations stem from unparalleled success for a MAC club, which includes five trips to the NCAA tournament in the last six seasons. Kent State is the favorite to come out of the MAC again this season, which opens Friday against the Winthrop Eagles, and sit has high as 30th in preseason college baseball polls around the country. The Golden Flashes are the team you dread to see coming on your schedule in this conference. Even scarier? Arguably, the team's biggest weapons are sophomores.
Eric Lauer and Andy Ravel anchor the KSU pitching staff. Lauer jumped into the rotation as a freshman last year, going 8-4 with a 3.26 ERA and 64 strikeouts. Ravel, who Duncan called "a hidden gem" last season, will step into a starting role after spending most of last season in the bullpen last year.
The lineup retains two of the top four hitters in the conference from 2014, Alex Miklos and Zarley Zalewski. But some youngsters will be there in support for those two heavy hitters, including sophomore Zach Beckner sliding over to second to make way for the return of senior Sawyer Polen at short, and freshman third baseman Dylan Rosa looks to fill the power void left by last year's home run leader, Cody Koch.
What's amazing about this Kent State club is not just the sustained success, but how deep this rabbit hole goes. Two sophomores lead the pitching staff. The lineup has key contributors from freshmen to seniors. Kent State is a machine, and the parts have rarely faltered in the last decade. For a team this loaded in a program this dominant... what's the biggest concern?
"The expectation is there, and they all know it," Duncan said. "And we feel like we have the guys that all know it and feel it."
"It's just making sure we don't lose sight of winning that one pitch."