June 4, 2011

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Chafin, Kent State Stun Texas

By Sean Ryan

CollegeBaseballInsider.com Co-Founder


A few years ago, Kent State beat out several schools in the Mid-American Conference and landed lefty Andrew Chafin (right).


“When we signed him, he was 86-87 with a good breaking ball,” said Golden Flashes coach Scott Stricklin, noting that his sophomore pitcher wasn’t heavily recruited outside the MAC.


Something happened before he ever set foot on the Kent State campus.


“He had a big growth spurt,” Stricklin said. “It was one of those things, he woke up one morning and grew three inches and gained 20 pounds.”


Fast forward three years – including 15 months recovering from Tommy John surgery – and Chafin boasts a fastball that reaches the mid-90s.


Texas, the No. 7 national seed, and the rest of the college baseball world got a glimpse at one of the nation’s next big stars: Chafin handcuffed the Longhorns (44-16) for 8.2 innings as Kent State (45-15) built a five-run lead and held on for a 7-5 win before a crowd of 6,288 at UFCU Disch-Falk Field.


The Golden Flashes scored six times in the sixth, four coming on David Lyon’s grand slam off Longhorns ace Taylor Jungmann (13-1) and two more coming on a single from Evan Campbell. Jungmann entered with a 0.95 ERA before allowing seven earned runs, ending his 15-game winning streak and marking his first loss in 26 career home starts.


Few could have seen an outburst like that coming.


“When we went up 1-0 early, I could really envision it staying 1-0,” said Stricklin, who was ejected in the fifth inning.


Starting in the fifth, Chafin (8-1) retired 12 in a row until allowing a double with two outs in the top of the ninth. After a walk, his night was done with four hits, four runs (two came after he left), two walks and eight strikeouts.


Kevin Lusson hit a three-run homer off reliever Justin Gill to give the Longhorns life. Texas put runners on first and third, but Kyle McMillen got Tant Shepherd to pop out to end the game for his 18th save a day after throwing 2.1 innings in an 11-inning win over Texas State.


The Golden Flashes now await Texas or Texas State, the winner of which will have to beat Kent State twice to capture the Regional.


“It’s arguably the biggest win in our program’s history,” Stricklin said. “Every game from now on will be the biggest game our program has played in.


“Our guys know it. We’re very honest with our kids. They read the newspapers. They know that’s a huge win. They know that we’ve never been to the Super Regionals. And this team has a chance to do it.”


The Golden Flashes can thank their pitchers for that.


Chafin entered with a 1.90 ERA and 97 strikeouts in 80.1 innings. This after missing all of 2010 recovering from Tommy John surgery.


Stricklin said that Chafin would touch 93 in his freshman year. After the surgery, the first pitch he threw last fall in a scrimmage was 95. But unlike most who endure Tommy John surgery, Stricklin said Chafin’s command and feel got much better than when he was a freshman laboring with high pitch counts.


“He’s a fierce competitor,” said Stricklin, a Kent State alum who previously served on Danny Hall’s staff at Georgia Tech. “He’s got an unbelievable arm, and he’s got a great feel for all of his pitches, but his best attribute is how he competes. He really competes.”


Chafin’s not alone. Kyle Hallock (10-4) also boasts an ERA under 2 and held Texas State in check Friday. And Sunday starter David Starn enters 9-2 with a 1.95 ERA and 114 strikeouts in 101.1 innings. Overall, the team ERA entering Regionals was 2.65.


“I think you could argue that we have three legitimate No. 1 starters,” Stricklin said.


With that stable of arms, Stricklin said the Golden Flashes entered the weekend brimming with confidence, despite the fact they hadn’t played well in previous Regionals at Arizona State and UCLA.


And now, Kent State is a win away from advancing to the Super Regionals for the first time.


“Right now, we’re playing our best baseball, there’s no question,” Stricklin said. “We’re playing our best baseball at the right time.”


(photo courtesy of KSU)