By Greg Gulas
As their 2012 baseball season was about to get started, Kent State baseball coach Scott Stricklin felt like he once again had the makings of a good team.
After losing six major players from their 2011 squad, a group that he called his most talented and a team that advanced to the NCAA regional finals before bowing out to the University of Texas, he felt that chemistry and how they would bond would be the determining factors.
Speaking to the Curbstone Coaches at their weekly Monday meeting, Stricklin noted that last year’s Golden Flashes team exceeded all expectations as it became the first-ever KSU team to advance to the NCAA super regional and the first Ohio school since Ohio University in 1970 to advance to the College World Series.
“We came within one game of a super-regional appearance in 2011 so our motto last season was ‘Let’s Just See What Happens.’ We had an up and down start to our season, but from April 25 to June 10 we won 21 straight games and played near perfect baseball. That was the key to our season,” Stricklin said.
An Athens native whose father, Dave, hails from Struthers, the Golden Flashes alum said their success was due in part to several local players that he was able to recruit, adding that the Mahoning Valley remains one of the hotbeds of sandlot baseball in the state.
“Local players like Joe Koch, Evan Campbell, Jason Bagoly and Troy Summers all contributed to our success,” Stricklin said. “Jason’s mother passed away while we were in Omaha, yet he stayed with the team, had two hits against Florida in arguably the best game of his career and that enabled us to beat the Gators, 5-4.
“Evan [Campbell] made a diving catch against Oregon to end the game, a 7-6 win for us. If he drops that ball we do not get to Omaha. Troy [Summers] is arguably our best athlete and while he needs to be a little more consistent, I expect a break out year from him this year,” he said.
“Joe [Koch] on the other hand was a huge reason for our success, not for what he did on the field but what he did for us in the dugout. He played every day as a junior, losing his starting job last year to a freshman. He handled that situation really well and kept us together.”
Getting to Omaha might have been the easiest part for Stricklin and his staff, which includes former major league pitcher Mike Birkbeck (he played locally in the Class AA League for the Ohio Carpet in the mid-1980s); last year’s national assistant coach of the year honoree.
“Once you get to Omaha you want to get back,” he said. “It’s the Mecca of college baseball.”
While proud of his team’s accomplishments on the field, Stricklin was even more candid when speaking of their classroom performance where they’ve posted a 3.00 cumulative grade point average in seven of the last eight semesters.