June 4, 2012
Experience key for Kent State,
By Sean Ryan
years, St. John’s and Kent State have been knocking on the door
of college baseball’s elite. On Sunday, the Red Storm and Golden
Flashes finally broke through in the NCAA Tournament, each
capturing Regional titles and securing berths in the Super
St. John’s (40-21) beat No. 6 national seed North
Carolina for the second time in two days as Frank Schwindel went
5 for 5 and Sean O’Hare and Robert Case had two RBI apiece in a
9-5 win over the Tar Heels. The Red Storm earned their first
Regional title since 1980 and will appear in its first Super
Regional when it faces Arizona. A day earlier, St. John’s beat
North Carolina on Danny Bethea’s game-winning three-run homer in
the bottom of the ninth of a 5-4 win.
“It feels good,” said coach Ed Blankmeyer, who
has guided St. John’s to three straight regionals and 40 wins
for the sixth time in eight years, early Monday morning. “Like
anything else, you continue knocking on the door, you’re hoping
one day it opens. It opened for us. We deserve this, we earned
About 750 miles away in Gary, Ind., Evan Campbell
hit a three-run homer that barely escaped U.S. Steel Yard and
made a leaping grab in center field to preserve a 3-2 lead as
Kent State (44-17) beat Kentucky (45-18) for the second time in
the Regional. The first victory was an epic 7-6, 21-inning win
Friday that spanned six hours and 37 minutes.
still kind of hasn’t sunk in yet,” Golden Flashes coach Scott
Stricklin (left) said late Sunday night. “We’re all very
excited. We came here with the idea that we were going to win
That St. John’s and Kent State are moving on is
sure to surprise casual college baseball fans who check the
sport out around this time each year. But to most around the
college baseball world, it wasn’t a matter of if, but when:
Experience is an attribute of both squads.
The Red Storm is in the NCAA Tournament for the
third straight season, having been sent to Charlottesville each
of the previous two years. Two years ago, when many of this
year’s squad were freshmen and sophomores, they battled Ole Miss
and lefty ace Drew Pomeranz in losing the opener. Last year, St.
John’s won its first game against East Carolina and drew
Virginia and another top Major League draft pick in lefty ace
Danny Hultzen. Although the Red Storm left without a Regional
crown, it gained invaluable experience.
“You hit the nail on the head,” Blankmeyer said.
“If you’ve been there a couple times, you understand what it
Blankmeyer said that it helped this year’s team
to have a chance to play at North Carolina earlier this season.
Having played East Carolina in Charlottesville last year,
Blankmeyer said they had a familiarity with the teams they ended
up beating at the Chapel Hill Regional.
In the three years leading up to this season, the
Golden Flashes had been sent to Regionals hosted by Arizona
State, UCLA and Texas, where last season, the Golden Flashes
beat the Longhorns on Day 2 and needed one more win to capture
the Regional. But Texas stormed back to win twice and end the
“The fact that we were so close last year
certainly helped us,” Stricklin said. “The experience factor I
think weighed heavily in this thing.”
Stricklin pointed out after Friday’s win that
none of the other three teams in the Gary Regional had
postseason experience with their current teams – of Kentucky,
Purdue and Valparaiso, the Wildcats were the most recent
participants in the NCAA tourney in 2008.
Kent State has won 20 straight games heading into
its Super Regional showdown at Oregon.
“We’ve played like this for six weeks,” Stricklin
said. “We’ve been near perfect for six weeks. We’ve played great
That run began in earnest in mid-April, when the
Flashes blew late leads twice in losing two of three at MAC
rival Bowling Green. The team entered the weekend unbeaten in
conference play, and by and large, playing pretty well. But
Stricklin saw flaws.
“It’s hard to get on your team when you’re
winning,” he said. “When we lost two out of three to Bowling
Green, it gave our coaches the opportunity to get on them a
It’s safe to say the Golden Flashes responded.
At St. John’s, Blankmeyer’s team dropped three of
four at a very good Liberty squad and saw itself at 4-9 in the
early going. Before long, though, the Red Storm’s deep and
talented team began following in the footsteps of previous
“I think parity is occurring in college
baseball,” Blankmeyer said. “I think you’re going to see more
and more non-traditional teams breaking through.”
For St. John’s, which boasts Frank Viola and John
Franco as alums, and Kent State, which claims Thurman Munson and
Gene Michael, that time has come.
(photos courtesy of Kent State &
St. John's Media Relations Offices)