The Mid-American Conference top seed Kent State Golden Flashes entered today's opener against the 8th-seeded Eastern Michigan Eagles ranked 23rd nationally and ready to start their march to another MAC Championship and NCAA tourney berth. MAC Pitcher of the Year Eric Lauer took the hill for the Golden Flashes to ensure that was the outcome, and they needed every ounce of his pitching prowess to outlast the Eagles 1-0 in both teams' MAC tourney opener.
It took a complete game shutout from Lauer to advance Kent State, but riding a four-hit performance with nine strikeouts, the Golden Flashes ace was dominant, impressive, and looked every bit the part of the MAC Pitcher of the Year that was awarded to him yesterday. Kent State's Conner Simonetti had the only offensive burst of the day, a solo homerun in the second inning, but with Lauer's performance on the mound that was all that was needed.
Kent State fans were hopeful that Lauer would be named the Player of the Year as well, but that award went to Ball State's Aaron Cool, who went 0-4 with a strikeout in the game preceding the Golden Flashes victory. The performance turned in by Lauer today will do little to squash that conversation.
Eastern Michigan came into Wednesday's conference tourney opener at 20-35 and most considered the Eagles a longshot to get the victory. Offensively, they lived up to expectations, never advancing a runner past second and not even getting a runner there past the 5th inning. Eastern's pitching, a combined effort by Brent Mattson and Michael Marsinek, held the Golden Flashes to 7 hits and 1 run while striking out 9, but the story of the day was Lauer and his efforts.
With the victory, Kent State advances to the winners' bracket and sends EMU to the losers' bracket. The Golden Flashes are back in action Thursday at 8pm against the NIU/Toledo winner, the nightcap of this opening day at All Pro Freight Stadium in Avon, OH. With the loss, EMU will face the loser of NIU/Toledo in an elimination game at 1pm Thursday.